College students struggle with choosing a major for many reasons. For some, it is a matter of “so many subjects, so little time.” Everything is exciting and interesting, and narrowing things down to one major feels a bit like choosing just one ice cream flavor on a hot summer day. Others struggle to understand their own strengths and career goals, which makes choosing a major difficult.
The following are tips and pointers often shared by college and university professionals when helping students choose a major.
1. Use your university’s general requirements to your advantage.
Many colleges have a set of course requirements that all students must take, regardless of their chosen major. These requirements are in place to help make sure that students leave the university with a broad knowledge base, and often include courses in areas such as the humanities, math, science, writing, social sciences and technology.
Many new college students feel they have to choose a major right away or risk wasting precious time and tuition money. But if carefully planned, the first few semesters can be an opportunity to test the waters in many areas while still progressing towards your degree. Read your college’s catalog and work with an advisor to understand your school’s general program. As you narrow down your major options, work towards completing this general program by selecting courses that interest you and meet the school’s requirements.
2. Use the resources available to you.
Most colleges and universities have advising, counseling and career centers available. Visit these centers and browse through their online and printed resources. Talk with advisors and career counselors. Most centers will offer assessment tests to help students indentify their interests and strengths. Spend some time taking these assessments and talking with a counselor or advisor about your results.
3. Daydream about what you want to be when you grow up.
Whether you’re fifteen or fifty, it is never to late to dream. So, you wanted to be a writer? Sure, the reality is that not all of us who are lined up for the title will get to be the next Hemingway. But paying attention to your dreams can help you narrow down your choices. If your dream is to be a novelist, chances are that even if you don’t get there a career involving writing as part of your job duties will make you happier than crunching numbers all day. Choose your major accordingly.
4. Know your strengths and your passions.
What subjects did you both enjoy and excel in during high school? What college courses keep you glued to your textbooks because you want to be, not just because you have to be in order to pass that midterm? What current events, issues or news items keep you awake at night? Your major and your eventual career can be a combination of what interests you and what you are good at, as long as you keep aware of both.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
The best resource when it comes to learning about majors and careers are those who are in the fields. In addition to advisors and counselors, talk to your professors and instructors. Learn about your school’s alumni association and find out if it offers a service that allows students to network with graduates in their majors or careers of interest. Talk to other students. Remember that sometimes the best resources can be those right under your nose – your family, friends of your family, your friends’ siblings and parents, and neighbors. Cast a wide net.
6. Think outside the classroom.
Your college courses and your advisors will certainly help you identify major possibilities. But they are just one piece of the puzzle. Give yourself time to experiment with different subjects through extracurricular activities on campus, volunteer work in your community, or internships.
7. Build your own bridge.
Remember that most college degrees require many more credits to graduate than just those in your major program. Most students have room to also complete a minor or even a second major without delaying their graduation, if they are planning properly and working in conjunction with an advisor. If you are interested in financial economics and the environment, maybe you can complete a major in one subject and a minor in another, and then market your unique knowledge base when you embark on your career search.
8. Think like an employer.
Many employers are seeking graduates with a certain skill set moreso than a degree in a particular major. To most employers, communication skills and information literacy are two of the most critical considerations when hiring. They want to know that you can interact professionally with clients and colleagues, and that you know how to find the information you need to do your job in an ever-changing world. Regardless of your chosen major, you’ll need to demonstrate these skills when you enter the work force. So rather than let majors constrict you, consider learning what you love and using your academic experience to hone these types of transferable skills.