Nearly 80% of college students change majors, sometimes more than once. While college is a great time for self-discovery, changing your major frequently or late in your college career can mean new graduation requirements, classes, costs, and time. Graduating with minimal debt often requires graduating on time. By taking the time to research and choosing a major that’s a good fit for you, you can save valuable time and money in college and get a jump start on your career.
Here are some steps to help you choose your major:
Start with Self-Evaluation
Start by asking the right questions to learn what motivates you as an individual. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What were my academic strengths in high school?
- What career fields interest me?
- What industries are growing, and what majors can lead to careers in those industries?
- What majors maximize my return on investment and earning potential?
- Do I want to go to grad school?
Keep asking questions! Go even deeper and think about when you’re happiest. If you could be paid for doing what you love most, what would that job look like? Or consider what problem you’d like to see solved and think about what kind of training and education would help you solve it.
Explore Different Careers
One high school senior always wanted to be a pharmacist. He loved science and thought it sounded like a perfect career fit—until he went and shadowed a pharmacist. He quickly realized that he liked the idea of the career but not the day-to-day of it. That simple decision to explore what he thought was the perfect career saved him from wasting time and money in college and from pursuing a career he wouldn’t enjoy.
Take time to explore different careers or interests. Talk to family, friends and neighbors about their jobs for ideas and advice as you’re choosing your major. Even better, arrange interviews with professionals in your area of interest. Do your research, whether online or in person. Websites like these can be helpful in your search:
- Career Outlook/Predicted Earnings | This government website allows you to explore majors and career choices.
- Career One Stop | Interest, skills, and work value assessments, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
ICAN Succeed | Free app for college and career planning from the ACT organization.
- Planning for Your Future | Download a free eBook to explore interests, majors, careers, schools, academic readiness, and costs.
- Big Future | Provided by the College Board (SAT), this site features a career search/exploration tool and a 15-minute online quiz for personalized matches.
O*Net | The O*NET Program is the nation’s primary source of occupational information, developed under sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration. The site hosts several tools including an Interest Profiler and Work Importance Locator to aid in career exploration.
- Best-Match Majors | Answer questions about courses, grades, and activities to receive a free analysis of what majors and/or careers may best fit your interests.
- MyMajors | This list of 1,800+ majors offers course examples, related majors, and quizzes to check how majors match up to your interests and values.
Many universities also offer quizzes to match your interests to the majors they have available. And most colleges provide a snapshot example of what four years of classes could look like in each major—a great way to double-check if a major looks good to you!
Check Earning Expectations
Money isn’t everything. But it’s worth taking a look at what your major might earn, right after graduation and in the long run. Expected salaries vary greatly by major, but students who expect to make more than the average salary right after graduation are those majoring in biology, computer science, engineering, and mathematics, while students studying agriculture, communications/journalism, education, and visual and performing arts can typically expect to earn less. Use a tool like PayScale that allows you to search by job, major, and more.
Don’t base your major and career decisions solely on the paycheck. While STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors might have the highest starting salaries, these majors and careers aren’t for everyone. And research shows that over time humanities majors often catch up.
Understand the Path to Your End Goal
As you choose a major for a potential career, take into account the extra steps to get there. Some careers (medicine, law, etc.) require graduate degrees or further education of some kind. Take time to map out your end goal and what it will take to get there. Some majors/programs are all you need to attain your profession.
Remember that your major doesn’t determine everything. Many students are admitted to medical and law school with a variety of majors, and many professionals admit to having careers that aren’t directly related to their college major. In fact, a recent study shows that only 27% of graduates take jobs related to their major. But it’s still a good practice to plan out what you need to accomplish to reach your goals!
Consider a Minor when Choosing a Major
Especially if you’re torn between interests and don’t want the extra time/expense of a double major, a college minor (shorter course of study) can complement a major and make you more marketable in a particular field.
With constantly changing technologies and circumstances, many jobs available today didn’t exist a decade ago, and jobs you haven’t yet heard of may be open when you graduate. Some experts, including John Baylor, believe a humanities degree, often called a liberal arts degree, builds the communication and critical thinking skills essential for later influence and success.
Whatever major you select, don’t choose solely because of trends, societal expectations, or perceived practicality. Pick what feels right for you and your personal growth and happiness.
Choosing a major that matches your interests will help you succeed in the future!
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