For many high school students and non-traditional students alike, the decision to go to college is a no-brainer—understandable since college graduates make 57% more on average than individuals with just a high school diploma, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In fact, there are so many benefits of attending a postsecondary institution of higher education (whether it be a community college or university) that some college hopefuls never even give it much thought. This is both a positive and a negative. In one regard, the clarity of mind that some prospective students have about continuing their education beyond high school is refreshing. On the flip side of the coin, not thinking twice about the matter means that these students are likely skipping an important step in the process—that is, choosing the right major. If you’re one of these bright-eyed undergrads, then you’ll want to take note. In this article, we’ll discuss ten top tips for choosing the ideal major for you.
1. Identify (And Research) Your Options
The first step towards making any decision is to consider what options you have available to you. In the case of choosing a college major, you may think you know what your choices are, but there are likely more options than you think. In reality, there are hundreds of different subject areas you can major in. Of course, your selection will vary by school as not every college will offer every available major. Still, it’s a good idea to look carefully at your choices. Some you will be able to dismiss right away as a discipline you’re definitely not interested in, but others may have some appeal. Make a point of researching these promising options further.
2. Pick Your Passion
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless—when choosing a college major, you’ll want to select an academic discipline that you’re passionate about, or at the very least, interested in. After all, the major you choose will (hopefully) lead to a lifelong career. That’s a long time to have to do something you’re not all that into.
If you’re not sure exactly what it is that you’re supposed to be passionate about, don’t fret too much. This isn’t an uncommon situation for up-and-coming freshmen to find themselves in. Moreover, there are ways you can uncover your academic interests such as researching potential majors, job shadowing, or even taking free online college classes. If all else fails, you can wait to declare a major until you’ve finished your general education courses. Just don’t wait too long, or you’ll end up lengthening your degree plan unnecessarily.
3. Consider Your Talents
For many people, passions and talents go hand in hand. That’s not always the case, however. When choosing a college major, you’ll want to take a hard look at what you’re good at and what you’re not. Some students naturally excel in mathematics while others get a headache just looking at an algebra problem. Some people are good with words while others struggle to write a decent paragraph, for instance. That’s not to say that you can’t get better at the disciplines you’re weak in, but you should at least consider playing to your strengths when choosing a subject to major in. This strategy will result in coursework that’s easier for you and potentially a career in which you rise to the top.
4. Get A Second Opinion
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the idea of choosing a major, then it may be a good idea to reach out to someone for perspective. This could be someone who knows you well, such as a parent, teacher, or friend, for instance. This person may be able to give you some advice on the situation from the outside looking in. While they won’t decide for you, they can offer an opinion that may be a bit more objective since they have some distance from the issue.
Alternatively, you could also talk to someone with some expertise on the matter, such as a school counselor or university admissions officer. These professionals can share some insight on college majors that you may not have access to otherwise. After all, they’ve made a career researching these types of things! And of course, the more information you have, the better choice you’ll be able to make.
5. Follow the Money
It’s a common misconception that all college degrees have similar monetary values. In fact, your wages after graduating from a bachelor’s degree program can vary significantly depending on the major you choose. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, college graduates with the highest-paying majors make nearly $3.5 million more in lifetime earnings than those with the lowest-paying majors. The university’s research found that the highest paying majors were those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as healthcare and business. Low-paying majors included those in early and elementary education, religious studies, and visual and performing arts, for instance.
That’s not to say that money should be the primary consideration when choosing a college major, but it’s certainly worth thinking about. After all, college is expensive, so there’s no harm in considering your potential return on investment.
6. Determine What Fulfills You
If you’re a young college hopeful, it may be hard to imagine right now, but one day, you’ll be middle-aged and contemplating whether or not you’re “fulfilled.” If that sounds terrible, there’s good news—you can make decisions now that will guarantee that your answer to this existential question will be “yes.” When choosing a college major, it’s wise to give some thought as to exactly what it is that makes you happy. Is it a ton of extra spending money, nice things, or financial security? If so, then a well-paying career is something you’ll want to strive toward. Do you get the warm fuzzies when you care for others or feel like you have touched someone with your actions? Then a career in the helping professions such as nursing or education may be a good fit.
7. Evaluate Your Future Job Prospects
You may be thinking it’s difficult enough to choose a major that’s both lucrative and aligned with your individual interests and talents. That’s not all you should be considering when choosing a college major, however. It’s also important to think about the likelihood of getting a job in your chosen field after graduation. (You know, the ultimate goal of this whole college thing in the first place.) Not all majors are in demand, unfortunately, and the job market fluctuates. Jobs for nursing, business, and computer science majors are abundant, for example, but the same can’t be said for degrees in history, psychology, or fine arts. You can keep tabs on various occupations’ projected growth by visiting the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website.
8. Play Devil’s Advocate
As you begin narrowing down your choices and zeroing in on the college major you want to pursue, it’s wise to take a close look at any disadvantages of the academic discipline you’re thinking of studying. While this may seem like an exercise in negativity, it can actually help you prepare for any problems or issues that may arise with your major. It can also help you identify any deal breakers (like a declining job market, for instance), which could potentially help you dodge a major bullet, so to speak.
9. Double Up With a Second Major
Some students struggle to choose just one major, but others have the opposite problem. If there’s more than one subject area you feel equally drawn to, you could consider a double major. You should know, though, that majoring in two different academic disciplines has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, a dual major can expand your employment prospects and make you more marketable after graduation. You may earn more, too, according to a recent study, especially if you’re a liberal arts major with a second degree in a STEM or business field.
On the other hand, a double major requires a lot of extra time and effort. You may have to sacrifice some extracurricular activities or social events to fulfill the demands of two bachelor’s degree plans. It could also take longer and cost more to finish these dual degree requirements.
10. Just Do It
Many prospective first-year college students struggle to choose a major because they perceive it as a weighty decision. Often, these students build the choice up in their minds to be a make-or-break decision that will affect the rest of their lives. Talk about pressure! While selecting a major is, in fact, a serious choice, it doesn’t have to be a permanent one. Students enrolled at colleges and universities across the country change their majors every day. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately 30% of undergraduate students switch majors at least once before graduation. You’re not locked into a specific course of study once you declare a major, so don’t sweat about it too much. Trust your gut, and if it proves wrong, try something else.
Choosing a college major may very well prove to be one of the most important decisions you make in your lifetime. It can certainly have far-reaching and impactful consequences, such as how you spend your waking hours, how much money you make, and possibly even where you live. This isn’t a choice to take lightly. With any luck, the tips above will help you select a major that ultimately helps you achieve your career and life goals.