Adults in their 30s sometimes struggle to find their purpose. Despite the decade or so of job experience and studies, it’s still difficult to make life decisions when there are so many factors to consider. Now imagine that at 18 years old, when you have even less experience under your belt. Picking a career path is hard— there are so many options! And, choosing a college major can be tricky too.
Some students knew what they wanted to be when they grew up at the age of 3; others are more indecisive. There are literally thousands of majors to choose from, from exercise science to theatre, so it’s easy to wonder, “how do I decide on a major?”
Some students lean on their parents to answer their question, “what should I major in?” Your parents might offer guidance when you ask them, “what major should I choose,” but in the end, you have to trust yourself.
Remember, choosing a major is exciting. It’s one of the first, independent decisions you’ll make as a young adult.
So, are you wondering how to find the right major? While we can’t magically decide a major for you, we can draw attention to some key considerations that might help you narrow it down. Hopefully, you won’t be stressing out thinking, “I need help picking a major!”
What Is the Difference Between a Major and a Minor?
If you’re thinking, “I need help picking a major,” you should understand what goes into both a major and minor area of study. The area of study you focus on while pursuing your degree is often referred to as your major. Majors consist of a group of core classes as well as any additional requirements determined by your degree program. Sometimes called a "major concentration," a major is paired with your degree when you graduate to give future employers and/or graduate programs an idea of what you studied and/or your level of knowledge in a particular area. For example, if you “major” in business, the degree you may earn is a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA).
A major is a specific subject area of study that you focus on while pursuing your degree. A major consists of a few core, mandatory courses and additional course or grade requirements determined by a particular college. Typically, between one-third and one-half of the courses you’ll take in college will be in your major area of study, or related to it. When you graduate, your major will be named in your degree i.e. Bachelor of Arts, Major in English.
A minor is a secondary area of study that you focus on while completing your major degree program. If you’re somewhat interested in a particular area of study but don’t want to commit most of your college education to it, consider a minor. Minors require fewer courses than a major, and are only required for certain degrees.
Steps on How to Find the Right Major
Here are some steps you can take to narrow down your choices for a college major.
1. Figure Out Your Interests
What do you like? Your major should be in a subject that interests you. If you pick a major without your interests in mind, you might end up miserable.
You should start discovering your interests in high school. Here are some steps to figure out your interests. You might start by making a list of 10 things you love to do. List all the things you enjoy doing, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Some examples include drawing, computer games, painting, and watching movies. A mix of those interests might lead you to consider a major in film, fine arts, graphic design, or other innovative, artistic fields.
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2. Assess your Strengths and Weaknesses
Doing things you’re good at will feel easier than doing things you’re not good at. Figuring out your strengths and weaknesses can help you assess what kind of major to go for.
For example, if public speaking isn’t really your thing, you might want to avoid majors that could lead to careers that involve constant presentation, such as a news anchor, media spokesperson, or lawyer. Or, if you’re really strong in mathematics but not art, you might prioritize a major in business over a major in art.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself. If you’ve dreamt of becoming a chemist all your life even though your science grades are mediocre, consider pursuing that major as well. Find balance and listen to your inner voice to weigh your strengths and weaknesses with your personal interests and goals.
3. Think About Your Career Goals
If you have a specific career goal in mind, you might need to pick a specific major to prepare for that career path. For example, if you want to become a doctor, your educational path is quite specific. Your undergraduate degree should be in the sciences to prepare you for medical school. Or, if you want to become an engineer, you’ll need to pursue an engineering degree. While some career paths have stringent educational requirements, others are more fluid. For example, a writer might have studied history, arts, or environmental studies. When thinking about your major as it relates to career goals, consider:
- Specific majors might lock you into specific career paths, while versatile majors might offer more transferability.
- Some professions have job shortages. Conduct some research to learn about any shortages of your goal profession in specific locations. You might also consider researching certain professions that you’re interested in to find out
- Research growing industries and corresponding majors.
- Consider the skills you’ll learn in one major, and compare those skills to the market demand.
- Look into employability prospects and earning potential associated with a specific major.
4. Seek Support
If you’ve gone through all these steps and are still confused about how to choose the right major, don’t panic.
It’s normal to go to college not having a clear idea of what you’d like to do as a career. It’s also normal to change your career goals countless times throughout your college years.
The good news is that schools won’t expect you to declare a major until your sophomore or junior year, which leaves you room to weigh your options, and complete the general requirements for your degree.
You might consider seeking support to help you decide on a major:
Academic advisors and professionals
Some people literally get paid to help students like you figure out a major. Make use of academic advisors at school and use them to bounce ideas off of. Drop by your counselor’s office and simply tell them, “I need help picking my major.” Another professional that might help you is one that’s working in your desired field. They can give you some insides of the job, that may solve all your queries. Be prepared with a set of questions to ask.
Finally, you can always reach out to your parents, guardian, or family members to seek out some advice.
An internship is a short-term work experience, sometimes paid, that helps you gain experience in a particular industry. Internships are eye-opening and help you assess whether or not you’d be a good fit long-term in a particular kind of work, or major.
Before committing to a major, take a few electives in the field to get an idea about what it’s like.
Can You Change Your Major?
Yes, you can change your college major. In fact, about one-third of undergraduate students change their major at least once. Research specific universities and colleges to learn more about their specific processes for switching majors.
It’s sometimes stressful when you need help picking a major. If you’re thinking, “how do I decide on a major,” remember that it’s an exciting choice that you have the pleasure of deciding for yourself. Finding the answer to “what should I major in” isn’t always easy. Be patient, give yourself time, and don’t worry about the possibility that you chose the wrong major. You can always change it.
Follow the steps above on how to find the right major, and listen to your heart!
Your major should bring you closer to your career goals, but it should also keep you happy and engaged.
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