Choosing the Right College Major

Figuring out the right area of study to pursue in college can be daunting. A tiny version of your guidance counselor may appear on your shoulder, asking “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” That can be an overwhelming thing to think about…after all, the rest of someone’s life is a long time! This article is meant to refocus students’ decision-making process and help remove some of the anxiety from declaring the right major. The questions below will help students move toward the program that will be most fulfilling.

What are you passionate about?

What can appear like such a simple question can actually be quite complex. Assessing one’s passions can often times be fun. However, translating those passions into possible, practical careers isn’t always as fun. Students should spend time thinking about the things which bring them joy. A love of volunteering and helping others may lead students to pursue a degree in social work. A passion for tinkering with items in the garage might indicate a good fit for mechanical engineering.

What am I good at?

“Good” is a subjective term, but often times students know the areas in which they succeed and the areas in which they struggle. Excellent at math? Perhaps an accounting major or even a physics program might be the right fit. Have a knack for observing patterns in behaviors of friends at the mall? That just may be an anthropologist in the making. College is challenging, and there’s no need to make it more challenging. You’ll likely find the most success doing something that plays to your natural strengths.

What kind of work can you see yourself doing?

Thinking about majors and careers and other “big picture” ideas might blur the process of figuring out which program is the right one. Sometimes the simplest thing to do is to consider the types of jobs that would be fun, challenging, and rewarding. Does the idea of helping a child learn how to read seem rewarding? Teacher comes to mind as an obvious choice, but maybe a speech therapist or learning disability specialist speaks to you even more. After realizing the types of jobs or kinds of work that spark interest, brainstorm and explore variations on those careers.

While finding answers to the questions listed above might not lead directly to the right academic program, there are plenty of other research options and resources to consider:

Research fields that are projected to have a have high demand in the future.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons a student has trouble identifying the right job for their future is because that job has yet to be created. By researching career fields that are projected to increase their demands, not only can students find a career path that should be thriving in the future, they are more likely to end up in a lucrative position where the threat of lay-offs might be far less.

Take classes in a number of majors, or shadow experts in the field to explore your options

First-hand experience can have a tremendous effect on finding one’s calling. Often times physical therapists found their way into that career because they were athletes that saw physical therapists in action frequently, had to go through physical therapy themselves, or both. By shadowing an expert or observing a course covering a particular academic program, students can see what happens when those classes are put into action.

Choose a major that gives you the most options and flexibility for a fulfilling life as you grow

Many times students are afraid to declare a major for fear of becoming trapped in a career path they aren’t sure they will want to be in twenty years down the road. While there is no guarantee that a student will stay in their given career field the rest of their professional life, sometimes it’s reassuring to know the academic program chosen is one that offers a high level of flexibility when it comes to professional opportunities. Communication majors might find themselves working at a radio station, writing content for a sitcom, developing requests for proposals for a Fortune 500 company and more. Finding a degree program which has a wide variety of potential careers can help reassure a student of their future opportunities.

Talk to those who have gone before you

True, this may sound a lot like job shadowing or observing a few courses, but the idea here is to seek out individuals that were also undeclared at some point in their time at school. Hearing from others about how they chose their given degree program, why they picked it, who assisted them, and what resources they used can give a student-in-need some additional starting points for finding the program that is right for them.

Ultimately, identifying the right college major is easier for some than others. For the student that is undecided on an academic program in their sophomore year, hearing about the student that knew they wanted to be a doctor since they were seven can be frustrating. Whether a student confidently chooses their major without a doubt in their mind, or the decision is made cautiously with plenty of anxiety, sometimes the reassurance that the right decision was made can come in simple ways such as acing an assignment, loving a program-specific internship, or hearing firsthand that they’ve impressed a professor. Students should remember that each institution has plenty of resources in the form of data, career centers, and academic advisors that are there to help assist in the decision-making process.