Choosing a college major is one of the most significant decisions you will likely have to make in your academic career. Many students are often plagued by this decision because it not only feels overwhelming, it may seem ‘permanent’.
The good news is that you do not have to declare a major immediately, and even if you do, most colleges allow for changes in curriculum. A new student embarking on their educational journey does not have to make a final decision right from the get-go. The best way to approach choosing a college major is to weigh options carefully and do some serious evaluation before making a final commitment. There are several ways this can be approached.
• Think about interests and skills
As you peruse the opportunities offered at your colleges of choice, you’ll ideally want to choose a degree program that matches both your interests and skills. The tricky part is you also want to select a college major that will lead to a viable job at the end of your learning path.
As you think about the subjects that interest you and the things you have strong aptitude in, self-reflect on whether or not you can see yourself doing these things the rest of your life. To start, create a list of two columns, one that details personal interests, the other, lists skills. Once this is done, compare the two lists to the degree programs offered at the college and see if they match any particular major.
Selecting a major you have an interest in is important. While a degree may not be the largest money earner at the end of the road, as long as it provides a possible job at the end, this is likely to yield higher satisfaction. If you go for the money earning degrees first, you may find yourself in a job where you have no aptitude or interest, and, as a result, struggle in your career. Students who aim for the big bucks without considering the bigger picture usually end up graduating and eventually needing a career change; this often entails going back to school and starting the cycle again. Ideally, you want to get it right the first time.
• Seek out job forecasts
While interests are a priority when selecting a college major, you also have to be realistic and select a degree path that will lead to a practicable job. In modern economies competition for jobs can be pretty steep and you want to be marketable and be a job candidate employers seek. You don’t want to select a major so archaic that you can’t financially support yourself after graduation; not to mention paying off student loans.
Exploring job forecasts is a good way to try and gauge what kinds of future jobs there will be. Taking data and comparing the predictions with the aforementioned interests and skills can help you determine which major is right for you. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics offers some great data that can help guide your decision making. The agency’s annual Occupational Outlook Handbook provides a wealth of information as well. Studying job forecasts can be valuable as many jobs may be declining and certain college degrees may prove less useful if there are no available jobs to match areas of expertise at the end of the road.
• Talk with an academic counselor
Upon entering college, it is a good idea to talk with your school’s academic counseling department prior to registering for classes. The reason you want to do this is that the major you envision may not be the degree program you think it is. Do this prior to taking courses, this way no credits earned are wasted; you want to be sure you take courses that will meet your long-term goals and apply to the degree program you’ve selected. Additionally, academic counselors can offer solid advice on sequence of classes and/or other elective options you may have within the confines of your chosen degree program.
• If you’re still not sure, postpone the decision
One thing many first-time college students do not realize is that they do not necessarily have to lock themselves into a declared major their first semester, and even their second semester. Deciding on a major is not a decision that should be made in haste, or due to pressure, if you’re unsure of which degree direction to take, think about it a bit more.
Students who are truly unsure are wise to talk to counselors and then perhaps enroll in a liberal arts or other general degree program that allows them to explore different academic disciplines and see what options there are. A good approach is to focus on general education courses that are easily transferable to more specialized degree programs once a degree decision can be made with confidence. Degree programs can always be changed, the tricky part is ensuring the credits already taken will transfer and apply to the final degree chosen.
Even if you think you are sure about your major, it’s a good idea to start with general education courses first. All too often students jump into degree programs, take the specialized classes and then discover mid-way through the program the degree is not what they envisioned. Taking a general education path in the beginning allows a level of flexibility and often leads to better certainty.
Choosing a college major is not a decision to take lightly, however it is not one that can be postponed indefinitely either. Remember, you have a little time to decide on a major, use window of time prudently and choose your major carefully. Consider interests, skills, job forecasts, talking with counselors, and if needed, postponing the decision; all will help you determine the best academic path that will lead to your future.
Additional source: Professional and personal experience