Choosing a College Major
A step-by-step guide on how to choose a college major that fits your career needs.
The average undergraduate student will spend a quarter of their time in college taking classes in their major field of study. Therefore, one of the most important (and stressful) decisions a college bound student will make in the college selection process is which college major to pursue. This decision will affect which college they will apply for, what type of scholarships and financial aid they will receive, how much time they will spend in college and ultimately, what type of career field the student will go into upon graduation.
A college major is the main field of specialization during an undergraduate's studies. It's a topic students start thinking about as early as grade school when adults and peers ask them, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Following theses steps will help students narrow down which college majors to pursue.
- Analyze yourself. Make a list of all your strengths and weaknesses. Include all the things you are good at (i.e. science, math, snowboarding, etc.). Next, make a list of all the jobs you would like to have.
- Analyze jobs. Find out the requirements for each job that interests you. View job vacancy announcements to see what types of majors are required for each job that interests you. Notice that we're asking that you analyze jobs instead of career fields because many jobs within a specific career field may require different types of college majors. For instance, a degree in criminal justice may not be the best college major for someone seeking a career in law enforcement. When possible, interview people who work in the jobs that you want to have. Ask them which college courses prepared them for the jobs they are in. A great way to learn more about the jobs and career fields you are interested in is by volunteering at agencies or companies in your field of interest. Patch.com posts a variety of local volunteer opportunities in the local area. Click here to read about some of those opportunities.
- Research majors. Request catalogs from colleges and read their curriculum for each major field you are interested in. Note that although many degree programs might share the same names throughout the various colleges, the actual classes will vary greatly from college to college.
- Think about the future. You may want to be a fashion designer or an astronaut now but, are they the same careers you will want in five or ten years from now? According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average student completes their four year degree in 57 months. Therefore, you likely won't be working in your desired job for at least five years from the time you start college. Think about what type of jobs you will likely want to have in five years and choose a major that will help you get them.
- Write more lists. After analyzing your strengths, weaknesses, future plans, college majors and, desired jobs, you may find that your original interests may have changed. Make new lists that reflect these new changes. Repeat as often as necessary until you've made an informed decision on which major to pursue.
There are several benefits to making an informed decision regarding which college major to pursue. These include:
- Save money. Students who make an informed decision on which major to pursue are less likely to take courses that don't meet their requirements for graduation.
- Save time. Once students know which major to pursue, they are focused on that major and typically won't take classes that are not required.
- More earlier opportunities. Students who know what major they want to pursue can start looking for internships, volunteer opportunities and part time jobs that will supplement their college experience as soon as they start college.
If after following all the tips above, you still can't decide on which college major to pursue, don't feel bad. It is estimated that at least 50 percent of college students will change their college majors at least once during their college careers. This is actually a good thing because it shows that students are re-evaluating their earlier college and career choices and making adjustments in order to reach their intended goals.