For many to-be college students, picking a major can seem like the most stressful part of the entire process. For all intents and purposes, this decision will direct your future, and for good reason, most students feel the pressure. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Picking a major does not have to be so hard. And it certainly is not so permanent.
Choosing a Major is Choosing a Direction, Not a Set Path
It can feel so overwhelming to pick a major. In fact, it might seem like you are being forced to make a lifelong decision – something that will impact every moment of your future.
Although this can be true in part and your major can guide your future, this choice is not an ultimatum. There is more to college than deciding and settling on your future. A major, in the end, is a guide. It is a direction. But it is not the only path.
These tips will guide you through the major-picking process. And, as you settle in on the major path of your choosing, remember it’s only a path. It’s a guide. It is a path. It is not an ultimatum.
Strategies For Choosing Your Major
There are two main motives that typically drive a student’s decision when it comes to choosing a major. The kind of career they want or their personal passions and interests. They are:
- What kind of work do you want to do after college?
- Do you have a specific career in mind or are you considering a general line of work?
The first place to begin, no matter which force is driving you, is to consider whether or not there is a subject or area of study or a career, you are passionate about. From there, you can start to narrow down some options, compile some ideas, and eventually make a decision.
Maybe you have no idea what you want to do after college, but you do know that you’ve always loved history. Is there a specific area in history that you really enjoy or do you just have a general passion for the subject? These are examples of the kinds of questions you can ask yourself. Let’s say you decide on History. You may begin your work as a history major and then narrow down your area of study as you work on your B.A. and perhaps even go on to obtain a post-graduate degree in a specific historic era that you discovered during your undergraduate study. From there, you discover a career within your graduate study.
This same method can be applied to any subject. No matter the subject or area of study you choose, the main idea is that you follow your interests and passions, not career goals, and let the passion lead you to your line of work.
The other approach is to look at your career goals first and then decide on a major. Let’s say that you’ve always wanted to be an engineer. Well, start with wondering what kind of engineering you would be interested in. If you don’t know, that’s okay too. You can start your undergrad studies with a general degree in engineering and as you learn, discover, and grow in the subject, you can narrow down your line of study. Some colleges even offer two-year pre-programs that allow you to discover the basics on a particular subject and then apply to the school of study if you remain interested.
Tips to Narrow Down Your Degree Options
Let’s assume you are still having trouble deciding. Or that you are interested in a number of subjects or potential careers and you just can’t decide. If this sounds familiar, try narrowing down your options by using these simple steps. There is no right or wrong, these are simple ways to get organized and make some educated observations to help you make a decision later.
To start, make a couple of lists. List your interests, like hobbies, passions, or other areas of study that excite you. Next make a list of any career goals you may have, or any careers that interest you.
Second, find where those two lists overlap. For example, let’s say reading is listed as an interest on your first list, and teacher is listed as a possible career. You could consider becoming an English major or an Education major with a focus on English. Or perhaps you’re really into history and government, and you’ve always thought a career in law enforcement or the CIA would be cool. Then a degree in criminal justice would be a perfect fit for you.
By cross comparing your interests and career goals you can then come up with a list of possible majors, and in fact, you may find that one subject pops up again and again. Now with just one or a few majors to choose from, making your final decision will feel easier.
Knowing What Fits and What Doesn’t
Sometimes soon-to-be students find themselves passionate about an area of study or a particular career, but the courses involved sound everything but fascinating. For example, let’s say you’re passionate about engineering, but the math just isn’t your subject. In fact, you really struggle in your math classes and can’t see taking any more math courses than needed. Well, you have some questions to ask yourself. If you hate math, is engineering really a career for you? It may sound like a cool idea, but do you want to spend your life doing so much math. Remember, what you experience in college, and how you value your time during college, all of this will help to set you up for your life, and your career, afterward. If you don’t like math now, you probably won’t like it later either.
So even though some careers may sound enticing, really think about and understand the area of study that you’ll be delving into to reach that career goal. Make sure the area of study is just as attractive as the anticipated career.
Understanding the Double Major
If you are still really having a hard time deciding, obtaining two degrees is always an option. Especially if you have two cross-disciplined areas of study that would help you with your career goals after college. Obtaining a double major or entering into a dual-degree program is a real, viable option for prospective students who can’t settle on a major but who have an interest in two specific areas of study.
In this way, you’ll be able to complete two degrees in typically the same amount of time. Many Education students follow this path double majoring in Education and then a specific area of study that they plan to teach like History, Math, or a specific science.
When You’re still Not Sure
The beauty of picking (or not picking) a major is that in the end, you can always change it. In theory, you’ll want to do this sooner rather than later since changing your major too many times may mean more time in school and more classes you need to take. But, changing once, even twice, is not unheard of. Still, if you simply cannot make up your mind no matter everything you’ve tried, consider some outside-of-the-box alternatives.
You could always take a gap year and see if during this time you’re able to learn a little more about yourself, discover a special passion, and explore some various options. Gap years are great for taking some time to really make those big decisions. They allow you to slow down and see what the world has to offer before making big decisions about your own place in the world.
If a gap year is not an option for you, consider attending a community college and then transferring later to the university of your choice once you have your major picked. The community college options work well because you will not be required to pick your major right away and you can get all of your core classes completed before really settling into one area of study. Community colleges are typically cheaper than four-year universities as well, offering an added bonus in financial savings.
No matter which area of study you finally settle on, remember that college is about more than just getting a degree and landing a job. College is a learning experience in itself. According to the College Atlas, “Earning a college degree–at any level–will open doors for you that would otherwise but shut. In addition to the skills and knowledge acquired by earning a degree, attending college provides professional networking opportunities inaccessible to those who don’t go to college.”