As you get ready to embark on your college journey, you’ll likely discuss choosing a college major with your guidance counselor or parents.
This important decision can be a difficult one.
Still, there are guidelines that you, your counselor, and your parents can follow to find a major that’s the right fit.
To help you make a carefully considered and excellent choice, follow these seven do’s and don’ts about college majors.
1. DO conduct research.
Before you declare a major, make sure your decision is an informed one.
Have you already committed to a school?
If so, spend some time researching majors offered by the college. You can also consider which majors have the strongest programs there.
Other factors to research include:
- Majors that align with your desired career or area of interest
- Average salary for degree holders in various majors
- Coursework for majors: What classes will you need to take? Do these classes interest you, and are you likely to excel in them?
- Job market statistics and employment rates for a variety of majors
All of this information can be easily found with a quick, simple Google search.
You can also examine course catalogs and talk to current students or alumni.
By conducting thorough research, you can find a major with excellent career prospects, solid earning power, and manageable coursework.
2. DON’T rush to a decision.
It’s normal to feel pressure to choose a major right now.
But this isn’t necessary.
In fact, it can be better to take the time to carefully consider your options.
The first two years of college mostly consist of General Education (Gen Ed) classes.
- These are core requirements in areas like mathematics, science, history, sociology, and English. For most majors, it isn’t until junior year that you will begin focusing on specific degree requirements.
Gen Ed classes can provide you with an excellent opportunity to explore a wide variety of subjects, determining which classes you enjoy and perform well in.
- Most colleges won’t require you to declare a major until your sophomore year, and waiting to declare can prevent the hassle of switching majors later.
There are a few exceptions to this rule:
Certain majors with especially in-depth skill requirements necessitate early planning. These include nursing, engineering, and physical therapy.
You may also want to declare early if you are planning to attend medical school.
For the most part, however, you don’t need to rush to a decision if you’re uncertain.
You may want to take the first year to dabble in a variety of fields and see what truly sparks your interest.
3. DO spend time reflecting.
Research is important when choosing a major, but so is self-reflection. Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true,” and this is great advice for selecting the right college major.
You need to spend time considering what your skills are, what makes you happy, and what you enjoy doing.
- Career research is a good idea, but you should also spend time picturing yourself in various careers.
- What would be fulfilling work? Where would you be happy? Would you be competent at a specific job, or would it be overwhelming?
Spend some time reflecting on your interests and passions.
Considerations like salary and job prospects are necessary, but you don’t to pursue something that isn’t a good fit for your unique skills and passions.
4. DON’T choose a major for the wrong reasons.
Along the same lines, make sure you don’t choose a major for the wrong reasons.
Some students decide to be a doctor or lawyer just because it “sounds good” or prestigious, or because it suggests a wealthy future.
These students may then discover that they have no talent for or no interest in these professions.
- This results in a costly or time-consuming change in major.
- Or, if the student sticks with this career path despite reservations, this may result in an unsatisfying and stressful career.
As you start leaning toward certain majors, ask yourself why this decision appeals to you.
Make sure that this is something that you actually want to do and also have the ability to do well.
5. DO meet with academic advisors.
Once you are enrolled at a college or university, you can make use of excellent resources like academic advisors (also called college counselors).
An academic advisor can help you understand the requirements for the college major selection process and come to a decision that fits your aspirations, interests, and abilities.
- If an academic advisor doesn’t have the answer to one of your questions, he or she can point you to appropriate resources.
Academic advisors can also help you develop an education plan, select courses, and stay on track with degree and graduation requirements.
- The college major selection isn’t just about passion and interest; it’s also about coursework and cultivating expertise.
With all of this knowledge and expertise, academic advisors are excellent resources for choosing a college major.
If you are undecided, consider scheduling an appointment with your academic advisor soon after arriving on campus.
6. DON’T give up.
Sometimes, even a carefully considered choice of major ends up not being the right fit.
- You may take a few classes in your chosen degree program only to find out that you don’t like it.
- Or you may end up struggling in these early degree courses.
If this happens, don’t give up in your pursuit of the right major. It’s okay to change majors.
- In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that 80% of college students change their majors at least once.
- On average, college students change majors three times over the course of their college education.
While it can be a hassle to switch majors, the fact that your first choice might not work out doesn’t mean that you can’t find the perfect fit.
In most cases, you also shouldn’t feel that your choice of majors is limited due to your desired career.
Many employers require a college degree without requiring the degree to be in a specific field. Most degrees can also prepare students for a variety of jobs.
- A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27% of recent college graduates had a job that was closely related to their major.
The authors of the study didn’t think this pointed to a labor-market problem, but to the fact that many careers “don’t really require a specific field of study.”
The point is this:
- You may not find the perfect major on the first try.
- That’s okay, and it’s the norm.
You also don’t have to feel that your career interests restrict you to just one or two possible majors.
In most cases, a variety of majors can be applied to a variety of careers.
So if you do have to switch majors, there are likely many possibilities you can consider.
7. DO decide your own college major.
As involved as your parents and high school guidance counselor may want to be in your decision, remember that, ultimately, you need to decide for yourself.
Choosing a major just to please other people will make you unhappy, and may also limit your performance if you’re not truly interested in it.
- When students (and later, employees) pursue their passions, they are more productive and more successful.
If you want to have a happy, fulfilling, and successful college experience and career, let the college major selection process transpire naturally. Accept guidance and support from qualified advisors, but don’t let them make the final decision for you.ch
Part 2: Actionable Advice
1. Use Available Resources
As you decide on a college major, ensure that you do your research and make an informed decision.
There are many resources available online that list career options for different majors, anticipated salaries, requirements for degrees, etc.
College course catalogs provide the most specific, accurate information about required classes for each major.
If you have already been accepted to a college, explore the course catalog as you consider which major is the best option.
- Even if you haven’t been accepted yet, you can look through course catalogs at some of your favorite schools to get a general idea about the expectations associated with various majors.
You can also talk to current college students or alumni, people involved in careers associated with certain majors, and, once accepted to a school, to an academic adviser or perhaps a professor.
Whatever resources you use, take the time to weigh your options, find accurate sources, and make a carefully considered choice.
2. Find Your Passion
What do you love to do? What are your hobbies and interests? What is your favorite high school class? Where do you enjoy volunteering? Are there any careers that you have always considered?
Discuss these questions with your parents and think about a major that will allow you to pursue your passions.
- Yes, you’ll want to consider salary and other factors to an extent—and we’ll get to that in a moment—but you will be happier and more successful in a career that you genuinely enjoy.
Not only will you spend at least two years in classes specific to the major of your choice, but you may potentially work in an associated career for the rest of your life.
You want to look forward to class and, later, to work. People are more productive and more successful in careers that they find enjoyable and inspiring.
After thinking about what interests and excites you, spend some time brainstorming a list of majors that you may enjoy pursuing.
If you aren’t sure what majors are available, you can find a list of college majors online.
Remember that not every major is available at every school, so if you have already committed to a college, you’ll want to review the list of majors on that particular school’s site.
3. Examine Your Strengths
It’s also important to consider strengths and weaknesses as you select a college major.
In what classes do you make the highest grades? In what areas have you earned recognition, awards, or other achievements?
- You want to take classes in which you’re confident you can excel. Sometimes, students choose a major for the wrong reasons and end up struggling with required courses.
For example, some students decide to be doctors because they want to make a lot of money, but they aren’t particularly strong in math or science and end up failing classes and changing majors.
Make sure that you choose a major in a subject that won’t cause you too much stress or difficulty in college. It’s okay to take some risks, but be realistic about your strengths and use this information to select a major that’s the right fit.
4. Consider Salary and Job Prospects for Each College Major
While we encourage you to find an exciting and inspiring major, it’s also necessary to consider finances and job availability after graduation.
There’s a wealth of information available online about employment rates for various majors, and it’s definitely worth exploring before making a decision.
- Will there be jobs available once you complete your degree, or will finding work in your field be a constant struggle?
Keep in mind that employment rates vary based on the level of degree you attain, and on whether or not you have prior work experience.
Salary is also an essential consideration.
- Many teenagers don’t fully realize the many bills and expenses associated with adult life, so spend some time talking to your parents about the various financial responsibilities you will need to handle after college.
Then, make sure the major you select will lead to a career that can help you afford these expenses comfortably.
Careers in medicine, business administration, and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are generally the most lucrative. Of course, salaries in any field will rise with experience.
Salary shouldn’t be the only consideration—or even necessarily the main consideration—but as you explore different major options, be sure you at least think about job prospects and financial stability.
5. Check Graduation Requirements
On any college’s website, you should be able to find a list of available majors. Clicking on a major will take you to a description and a list of courses that are required for graduation.
Before committing to a major, spend time looking over the classes that you’ll be required to take and pass to earn a degree.
Ensure that you are willing and able to complete all of the requirements for your desired major.
- For example, a student considering a degree in Marketing may not immediately realize that this will require many math courses.
Try a few introductory courses in that field, talk to an older student or graduate who studied that major, or try to get a copy of a syllabus for an advanced seminar.
This will help you decide if you’re capable of the amount and level of work required for a degree in that major.
6. Take Time to Explore Options
Of course, it’s not necessary for you to know your major on Day 1 of college. It’s a good idea to have a few areas of interest in mind, but if you aren’t ready to make the decision yet, there’s no need to rush.
- In fact, taking the time to carefully explore options could save you time and money associated with making the wrong decision and ultimately changing majors.
For the first two years of college, you will mostly be taking General Education (Gen Ed) courses.
- These are basic requirements in English, mathematics, history, science, and sociology, and they’re designed to develop well-rounded college students.
This will give you the opportunity to see which college-level classes you excel in and enjoy.
Most colleges won’t require you to declare a major until sophomore year.
- If you truly can’t decide, pick a few areas of interest and enroll in related Gen Ed courses. You can use these courses as a trial run, helping you decide which major is truly the right fit.
However, if you are considering attending medical school or have an interest in fields like nursing, physical therapy, or engineering, declaring a major as soon as possible is best.
Early planning is required for the specific, in-depth skill requirements of these areas of study.
7. Consider a Minor or Double Major
If you struggle to choose between majors that you would really love, you might want to consider a minor or a double major.
This will mean more work, but it can also mean more opportunities in the future.
- Talk to an academic adviser if you are considering this plan.
- Be realistic about the amount of work that you’re able to handle and ensure that the workload will truly be worth it in the end.
- Choosing a college major is an important decision, but it’s not set in stone.
You can change majors, and most adults explore more than one career in a lifetime.
However, to set yourself up for a successful college experience and a successful career, think about job prospects, salary, your passions and talents, and degree requirements.
If you do your research and consider these factors, you will find a college major that’s the perfect fit.