Feeling stuck? These steps can help you make a decision about your college major.
By the time you get to college, you’ve already made some pretty big choices: how far away from home to go, what kind of school to attend, which dorm to live in. But at some point in your college career, you’ll have another big decision to make. You’ll have to pick a major, which is the area of study you’ll specialize in.
Why choosing a major matters
Once you commit to a major, you’ll be spending a lot of time studying in that department. So before you make that investment, it’s good to spend some time considering why you want to major in a particular field and what you hope to get out of it.
It’s true that many people don’t end up working in fields associated with what they studied in college. But often, your major can give you invaluable knowledge and skills that will give you an advantage as you begin your career.
Most schools require that you choose, or “declare,” your major by the end of your sophomore year so that you can complete all the requirements and still graduate in four years.
How to pick a major
Having trouble deciding? Thinking about your passions, strengths, and goals can help you narrow it down. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Consider your interests. Make a list of your passions and curiosities—the things that get you fired up. Highlight a few that could translate into a course of study.
- List your strengths. Where are you most skilled academically? What things come naturally to you? Where do you feel you have talent that could be developed? Take a look at these first two lists and see where there might be overlap. For example, if you’re interested in health and wellness and you succeed in science classes, biology might be a good fit.
- Consider your career goals. You might not know exactly what your “dream job” is yet, but it may be helpful to pin down some looser goals. Perhaps there’s a field, like healthcare or government, that interests you. Or, you might know that you want to work helping children or to improve the environment. Thinking about these broader aims may help direct your decision.
- Research the ROI on different majors and career paths. My College Plan lets you compare different majors and career choices, showing you how they can affect your potential salaries, and student loan debt, down the road. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook can give you a feel for how much growth is expected in a particular field.
- Seek some guidance. Helping you choose a major is a big part of your academic advisor’s job—and this person will have tons of insight into the pros and cons of different programs at your school. Use that resource, and don’t be shy about asking professors for guidance, too. Talking to current students in or recent graduates of the programs you’re considering may be helpful. And if you know any recent graduates with a job that you’d be interested in, ask them about their college major and how it did or didn’t affect their career path.
Still can’t decide what to major in?
The process of choosing a major can feel pretty intimidating. After all, you’re making a choice that will impact the rest of your college education—and perhaps your career path as well. But it’s also an exciting opportunity to really delve into the topics that excite you the most, and get you ready for whatever lies after college, whether that’s graduate school or the working world.
Keep asking yourself the questions listed above, and don’t be shy about enlisting help from family, friends, advisors, and professors. If you want to “test drive” a career, volunteering or interning in a field can give you a sense of what working in it would really be like—and perhaps give you the inspiration you need. And if you really can’t choose between two majors, well, there’s always the option to double major.