Selecting a College Major
You’ve just gone through the arduous process of choosing a college and before you know it, you have to decide what to study! Selecting a college major is an incredibly important decision, and one that should be given ample time and serious consideration. You will be deciding a course of study that will influence your life in countless ways.
But don’t fret! Even though it's a serious decision, you still have time—unless you’re already in your sophomore year. If that’s the case, then you better get moving!
It’s best to start thinking about majors while you’re still in high school. Having some idea of what you want to study will help you select a college and chart your future course. But the reality is, with some exceptions, you don’t have to declare a major until a little later in your college career.
The major you settle on may or may not be directly related to your eventual career, but it will influence the way you approach critical thinking, problem solving and communication. That’s what makes it so important. But if you give yourself time and really evaluate how your major will fit into your goals for the future, you will select a college major that is a great fit for you.
How to Approach the ProcessMost incoming freshman don’t know what they want to do when they grow up. However, you probably know what interests you and what doesn’t, as well as subjects that you have an aptitude for and those that you don’t.
This is a good place to start. Are you better at math and science, or reading, writing and analytical thinking? This will set you in the right direction and help narrow your options.
If you’re still in high school, it really helps to know if you’re leaning towards liberal arts or a more technical field of study. This will help you decide what colleges to apply to. Most medium and large colleges offer hundreds of different majors. It would be impossible for them to be first-rate in all of them. Ideally you want to attend an institution has a good reputation in your field of study. This will pay off later when you’re looking for a job.
Once you start college, you don’t need to declare a major right away. Most programs have plenty of general education requirements and those classes will dominate your first two years of college. There are exceptions. Programs such as engineering, architecture and pre-medicine have very specific pre-requisites and students are urged to declare a major as soon as possible, otherwise you may be in college for more than four years.
As you complete your general requirements, you can explore different subjects, find courses that excite you and rule out some that you thought you liked. You also have the freedom to take elective classes, which can open up possibilities you never considered before.
Many students choose their first major because of a general interest in a subject, sometimes dating back to childhood. But people are often surprised to find they don’t like a subject once they see what it is like to study it rigorously. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a program for a test drive before you commit to it as a major, otherwise it may just be your first major and not what you end up graduating in.
Switching majors isn’t the end of the world either. Plenty of students change majors midway through their college careers. But it can make that career longer and more expensive. That’s why you don’t want to rush into a major.
Career-oriented MajorsSome students know just what they want to do and pursue a career-oriented major, such as business or nursing, two of the most common. These majors are focused on preparation for a specific career path. For these students, the decision is easier, but it is still wise to take some classes before you declare a major, just to make sure you really like it.
If you are considering a career-oriented major, find out more about the college’s career services. Some colleges invest heavily in these programs, often including an active alumni network, while others do not. Solid career counseling can make a huge difference in your ability to find internships and employment.
Other majors are designed to feed into a master’s degree. If this is the case, you need to be sure that you are ready for the extra commitment. If not, your bachelor’s degree may not be worth much without the master’s accompanying it.
A College Major is the Start of Your FutureAs you take different classes and narrow down your options, it’s time to start thinking about your major in terms of your future. Ask yourself what kind of career you want to have.
Some majors are very specific to a career (see above), so in selecting a major you’re essentially choosing a career. Other majors are more open-ended and teach general skills like critical thinking, analyzing texts and communication. Most English majors don’t go on to become authors or English professors, but they have a broad range of skills that can be applied to many different careers.
Remember, your major will have a big influence on what you do for a living, but it is not determining your destiny. Plenty of people wind up in a career field that is completely unrelated to their major. You just never know where life will take you.
When to Declare a MajorWhen exactly should you declare your major? It depends on the subject, but in general sooner is better. Some students wait until the beginning of their junior year to declare and have no problems. But this can limit your options and create some headaches.
For most majors, you can declare sometime in your sophomore year. If you’ve already taken some required classes, those will count toward your degree. If you’ve spent lots of course credits on electives in other subjects, those will still count as elective credits, something you need in almost any major.
Some programs are not so flexible. Remember engineering, pre-medicine and architecture? At certain schools, the more rigorous programs like these require students to declare in their freshman year. That is because these majors have lots of very specific pre-requisites. You’re going to have to get started on those right away to graduate in four years.
Investigate the ProgramTaking an introductory class is a great way to find out if you want to be an anthropologist or a nurse, but it won’t tell you everything you need to know about the program. Dig deeper and find out exactly what is required for different degrees.
If you’re still in high school, it’s not too early to start. Talk to your guidance counselor about different college majors. He or she will most likely have some literature and online resources that can give you more details about a field of study and what is involved.
If you’re already in college, an academic advisor will definitely have this information for you and it will be specific to that college. Look at the required classes. Are these subjects that excite you? Do they line up with your interests and aptitude? If you’re still in doubt, talk to other students who are taking or have already graduated from the program.
Have a Long-term PlanIdeally, the major that you select should fit into a long-term plan for your life. That sounds like an awful lot to decide right now, but don’t worry, you can always change your plan. The important thing is that you have one. That is a much better way to navigate through college than zigzagging here and there and finally settling on something.
If you have a plan for what comes after graduation, even if that plan changes—and it almost certainly will—you’ll have a much easier time making these crucial choices.
Selecting a college major is definitely a major decision. It can be scary committing to something, but that’s what adult life is all about. If you give yourself enough time and approach the process in a thoughtful way, you will find a major that helps you achieve your goals in life.