College: It’s a word that can evoke excitement, wonder, fear, and trepidation all at the same time. The thrill of pursuing a new career or looking at your future for the first time — coupled with the fear of perhaps not quite knowing what to expect — can be intense. A reason for this myriad of emotions can be attributed to one important aspect of the college experience: choosing a major.
What am I going to study? How do I narrow down what I want to pursue? The multitude of possible topics of study can be completely overwhelming, and it can be tough to pick just one. As exciting as the college experience can be, you’ll be a student forever if you don’t know how to decide on a major.
What College Major Is Right for Me?
There are many, many subjects to choose from that can be your major. Here are some tips you can use to help narrow the playing field when you’re choosing a major. Theses tips will make the task more manageable, whether you’re pursuing a four-year degree, an associate degree, or adding on to a current skill set.
1. Try to find something you are passionate about.
When considering how to choose a college major that’s right for you, look first at your interests and passions. Do you thrive most when you are writing? Are you fascinated by the world of dentistry? Do you feel happiest when you are helping people?
Dive deeply when you’re thinking about your interests. If you’re stuck or unsure where to start, try visiting a career center.
When considering what you are most passionate about, be sure to include your past experiences in the process. What types of jobs made you the happiest? Were there any particular subjects you’ve already taken classes in that really piqued your interest? You can also consider where you are most academically strong and look at how you might be able to translate those skills into a future career.
You’re going to be spending time studying your topic. Then, hopefully, working in that industry once you graduate. There’s nothing wrong with changing directions at some point, even once you’re in the career field. However, finding something now you’re passionate about can make the college and work experience more rewarding from the beginning.
2. Wait until you enroll in college before deciding.
Your first year at college is usually when you get most of the general requirements out of the way. If you’re not sure how to decide on a major, use the first year to explore different classes and talk to professors who can help you decide.
You can even declare your major as “undecided” when you begin college. This gives you the opportunity to explore a few different major areas as you work to get your core classes taken care of. You can also take introductory courses that will count toward those general requirements.
Unsure if you’d like to pursue music as a major? Try taking a specific introductory music class. How about the medical profession? Try out some of the science courses that may be required for that direction.
College majors have their own requirements you’ll need to complete before you can graduate. You’ll want to be careful about changing directions too many times. Doing so can push your graduation date.
However, taking a little bit of extra time up front for exploring topics often isn’t too detrimental and can save you time in the long run. Ideally, you may not want to be switching majors after you’ve spent one or two years already working on one.
3. Look at double majoring and adding minors.
Even if you’ve narrowed down your interests, it may be difficult to pick one topic. While it may add a bit of time to your college experience, you could consider a double major or even adding a minor or two. In addition, you could also take classes for certificates or diplomas to add to your skill set.
4. Find something that is interesting, but may not necessarily be the easiest for you.
Picking a topic you already know super well may seem enticing. After all, it’ll likely make classes easier, and you may not have to put as much effort into studying.
However, it can also mean you may likely get bored quickly. If you enjoy writing or music and have a lot of experience with either, it may seem like a no-brainer to choose those directions for a major. On the other hand, something that is a fun pastime can quickly become “work” when you are required to study it day in and day out.
Instead, keep those options in mind when you’re looking for a direction, but don’t be afraid to consider majors you may not have as much experience. For example, a career in criminal justice may be just the ticket, combining skills and knowledge you already possess with enough new classes and subject matter to keep it interesting.
5. Consider financial obligations and goals.
Will you have student loans you will need to pay back? If so, you may want to focus on an area of study that has the potential to land you a job with a high potential salary. While many loans can be deferred for a period, eventually, you will need to repay them.
You will probably also want to take a look at your financial goals. Do you want to try and retire by the time you’re 50? Are you interested in one house, or do you dream of a vacation house in the Bahamas someday?
While many avenues can get you to your financial goals, one thing to consider is the potential job market for your major choice. You may be able to get to your goals quicker and in a less roundabout way if you choose a topic of study that offers the earning potential that better matches your financial dreams.
6. Picture how your career life might look.
Sometimes, you may not be able to land a job in your designated area of study right away after getting your degree. However, it’s important to consider where the best potential for jobs might be. IT, for example, is an area that is in increasing demand as our world goes more digital.
It’s also critical you consider what your life might look like in your chosen career field. A job in IT can offer a number of benefits including a challenging working environment and the potential for a high salary if you choose IT. But you will also be sitting in front of a computer 40 hours a week and won’t be outdoors much.
Create a pros and cons list to see if you would enjoy the working environment of that career.
7. Conduct job shadows and internships.
In addition to drawing upon any previous job experiences to help you make your decision for your future career path, you may also want to conduct job shadows and internships. Some degrees and fields may require you to do these anyway, but you can also pursue them on your own.
Look at doing an internship between semesters or classes. This can be a great way to get a feel for a variety of different career opportunities without committing a huge amount of time. An internship may be unpaid, but the experience you receive can be well worth the hard work. In fact, internship experience can be very attractive to future employers.
Job shadowing is essentially where you’re following a professional in a particular career field for a day or longer. It could even be a week or more. You’ll get the “day in the life” experience.
To ensure you’re prepared for your job shadowing experience, you should research the company first. Familiarize yourself not only with the position you’ll be shadowing, but also with the company itself. Learn about what they do, their competitors, and the industry.
You should also be prepared to get involved. While most of the time will be spend observing, you may do some work, too. Even menial tasks can be beneficial as it shows your adaptability and willingness to do whatever projects you are given.
Job shadowing and internships can be helpful in getting experience that will help determine your major, but they also provide the opportunity for networking. The people you meet could become valued references for future employment. You could also possibly land a potential job position with this company after graduation. You never know where it may lead.
8. Take a personality or skills test.
There are many free personality tests online. You may already have an idea of what your personality is, but a test is a fun way to look at multiple components you may not have considered. While not all aspects of a personality test might apply to a job hunt, it may give you some insight into what types of environments you would thrive in.
For instance, do you feel particularly at home in a place where you must think fast and be quick on your feet to tackle a multitude of different tasks and projects? Maybe something in the medical profession or even the legal environment may be a good fit.
However, if you tend to survey a situation before jumping in, or you enjoy a predictable, stable day-to-day routine, then maybe business administration may be up your alley. If you try to enter a career that doesn’t match your personality type, you could find yourself getting stressed or overwhelmed on a regular basis, or perpetually bored.
9. Evaluate your social needs when choosing a major.
Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team? Do you thrive when you get to meet new people? Considering you will spend about one-third of your time with the people you’ll work with, it’s important you like and can get along with them. You also need to evaluate whether or not you enjoy working as part of a team or on your own.
If you tend to work best when you’re in an isolated environment, you might be best suited for a field where you work independently or even from home. Medical coding is a position that might fit the bill. On the other hand, if you’re more interested in working as part of a team or meeting new people, something in sales might be better.
10. Consider your working style.
You’ll also want to be sure to evaluate your working style. Do you tend to be highly motivated and a self-starter? If you don’t have a project, can you find one on your own?
If so, you may be well-suited to work in a position that does not have a lot of supervision. You could work from home or even independently, and you’d probably thrive. However, if you are likely to procrastinate on projects, or you need guidance to see what needs to be done, you may be better suited to a position that has more direct supervision.
11. Conduct your own interviews.
While the company will be the ones to contact you if they want you to come in for an interview, you can do interviews, too. It’s one of the best ways to research possible job opportunities. Talk to people who are currently in the field you’re investigating. Do you know anyone who currently does a job you’ve found an opening for?
By putting together some questions and getting a clearer understanding of any educational requirements, skill sets, certificates, or other needs for a particular job, you’ll be one step ahead of the game in determining a career path that interests you. You’ll also get a better idea of what you need to do to get there. You might even be able to talk with someone directly in a company you’d be interested in working for.
By going the career route first, you can determine which educational path can get you to your career. Even that can help you determine which major you need to pursue to get to your goal.
How to Know Which Career Is Right for You?
Sometimes, even when you’ve thoroughly evaluated all of your options, considered what career you’d like to have, and researched the educational requirements needed to get there, you still may be second guessing your choice of college major. Did I choose the right major? Is it too late to change majors?
The bottom line? Don’t panic. Even if you thought one direction was the right fit, and you notice that it’s just not working, there is no harm in changing. It’s not set in stone, and it’s ok to change your mind. You want to be sure you’re in a place where you’re thriving and enjoying your career. To do that, you need to ensure you’re using the skills and learning about topics that truly make you happy.