What to consider when Choosing a Major

Most important among the list of considerations for selecting a college major is one’s own personal interests. Maybe you are the type who likes to work with numbers? Maybe you like science? Maybe you hate the practicality of numbers and prefer the arts? The first thing a prospective student needs to do is make out a list of personal likes and dislikes. From this list, a student can narrow down to a selected area(s) for a major field of study.

Besides Interests and skills, there can sometimes be other factors that lead students down a specific career path, even though that career path may not necessarily be to one’s liking. One example is a family run business. Some students are sons or daughters of a successful mother and/or father who own a business. Often, if the business is in the family and the parents want to keep it this way, a specific major will be expected from the student. Generally, the field of study will be business but depending on the parent’s type of business owned, it could be something else.

Another popular but not always good reason for selecting a specific major is money. No, I’m not referring to students who select a major that will require the smallest expenditure of tuition dollars. I’m talking about students who select a major based purely on the earnings potential of workers in that field. Engineering, business, medical, and law are generally considered more lucrative fields and this will sometimes lure students to select a field of study in one of these areas instead of selecting a major in the liberal arts or some other field where earnings may or may not be as high.

If students have made a list of interesting fields but still having a difficult time selecting a major, there are still a few options to consider. First, most high schools have career counselors who can help students decide on the field that is right for them. These individuals are often a good resource for some reasonable and unbiased assistance. Asking for parental input is usually a good idea too, but students should beware of parents who have money on the brain. Some parents, even though they mean well, will push their son or daughter in the direction of the field of study that has the greatest chances for income and prestige. This may or may not be compatible with a student’s main interests. These types of parents usually claim that they “have their child’s best interests in mind”. But in reality, these parents have equated money with happiness and they sometimes steer their kids in a direction that isn’t right for the student.

Another possible way to decide on a major is to take an interest inventory test. Most high schools have tests like this and they can be found on the internet. The way they work is simple. A student is asked questions that relate to specific likes and dislikes, sometimes with an additional “weighted” factor (where the student indicates how much they like something or how well it fits their personality on a scale). The answers are then tallied together and a list of possible majors is presented. This can often help students who are unsure what they want to do and/or who want to know what specific career fields coincide with their interests.

Selecting a major because it has the potential to pay well isn’t a good idea but it bears mentioning once more because it is becoming a common occurrence. I know several people who selected majors like engineering, business, and others because “this is where the money is” and I know some people who went to law school for the same reason. I can understand why people want to be financially secure, but a person really has to ask themselves if they will be happy working in a specific career field solely because of money. Large paychecks are nice, but they cannot compensate for problems like job dissatisfaction. I realize that some people are motivated by money more than anything else and their happiness is driven by large dollar signs. For these types, a major selected based on potential earnings might work out but for others, it can lead to great distress and anxiety. A student has to think hard before making a decision like this.

If a student is worried about narrowing down his/her choices and wants a more generic type of major, there are plenty of good choices. Some majors are so wide- open that they can apply to a vast number of jobs. Majors like communications or management, for example, are non- specific in nature and they can qualify a student for a wide array of employment opportunities upon graduation. On the other hand, there are some jobs where no substitutes are permitted. Careers in fields like engineering, for example, require an engineering degree. This is where a student has to know what he/she wants to do for a living and what is required to get there. There are some jobs that will accept degrees from several different majors but others allow no substitutes.

Is it critical to have a major field of study selected before enrolling in college? The answer, of course, is no. It is very popular nowadays for undecided students to enroll at a university with an undeclared major. If a decision cannot be made, this is often the best way to go. It makes more sense to put off the decision until a later time instead of enrolling in a major field of study and then switching to another field. Many of the class credits that are specific to one major will not be transferable. And this will lengthen the number of years that a student will have to devote to school in order to complete the final major.

Deciding on a major field of study can sometimes take time and dedication to the cause. Some students already have a good idea what they want for a future career while others need a little more guidance. Starting out as an undeclared major is a good idea for students who are completely unsure or who are “on the fence” and cannot decide. Selecting a minor field of study can help, but the selection of a major is the most critical decision to a successful and fulfilling career. Interest inventory tests, guidance counselors, parents, and others can all be helpful assets in this important decision making process.