College Major — How to Choose the Right College Major

How to Choose the Right College Major from Day One

After choosing the college you're going to attend, the next decision is not a minor one — it's a major one. Selecting the right college major — one that aligns with your interests, abilities, and career goals — can help shape your college experience and prepare you for the future. However, if you're like most people, you might not be 100 percent sure of what you want to major in right away, or you could be having second thoughts about the trajectory you were planning to follow.

The good news is that most college programs are designed to let you do some academic exploring before selecting your program of study. Of course, you will have to renounce your undeclared status eventually, and if possible, avoid changing majors late in the game since it can extend your college career. Here are some strategies for making the right choice from the get-go.

Do some self-assessment on your interests and abilities.

After more than 12 years of schooling, you probably have a good sense of where your academic passions lie (and which classes give you the most trouble). Do you excel at solving problems with logic and number-crunching, or are you more of a creative thinker who enjoys contemplation and discussion? Does your ideal work scenario involve a corporate structure, a start-up culture, or an entrepreneurial endeavor? Do you enjoy collaboration, aspire to be a leader or educator, or do you see yourself working solo? Answering these questions can help you begin narrowing down your potential fields of study.

Seek guidance.

College advisers can help you understand what a major will entail by mapping out an academic path for you. You should also speak to students and professors in the majors you're considering for some additional input as to what the courses are like, what you'll learn, and what your expected outcome will be.

Know which fields of study have wiggle room, and which don't.

If you're considering a professional track like pharmacy, physical therapy, or business, for instance, those programs of study often require separate applications, and the curriculum is pretty much set. In other words, you'll need to embrace these majors wholeheartedly without any deviation.

Look at each major's requirements.

A particular major might sound appealing, but you want to be sure that there are no surprise roadblocks along the way. Some majors are just more challenging than others and end up having a high dropout rate. Carefully review which classes are required so you know what's in store for you.

Consider the skill set that you will develop.

There's a lot of talk about which majors are "practical" in terms of career preparation, but what's more important are the skills you'll develop, the experiences you'll have, and your ability to apply what you've learned. For instance, many businesses hire graduates with liberal arts degrees because of the critical thinking and communications skills that are developed, especially if they've completed a couple of strong internships. On the other hand, if you intend to go into fields like engineering or computer programming, you'll need to choose a major that equips you with the hard skills needed to perform the job.

Get clues from your core classes.

Every college has courses that are required for all students regardless of their major. Most students try to take the bulk of them during freshman and sophomore year. Going that route allows you to get a sampling of different subjects, and often times, it's how students come to discover the right major for them.

If you end up realizing that you made a mistake, all is not lost since you do have the option of changing to something else. Keep in mind, however, that changing majors can potentially delay your graduation date, so don't do so impulsively, but don't wait too long either if you know in your heart a change is necessary.

By putting the time in early on to figure out the right path for yourself, you'll be better able to choose the major that's right for you from day one.