How to Decide on a College Major

March 5, 2019
How to Choose a Major that is Right for You

Coming home from your first semester at college, you’re likely to be inundated with questions about the experience. Have you made good friends? Have you joined any clubs? Are your classes hard?

Then there is that other question — the one that doesn’t always have a clear-cut answer. What is your major? Maybe you know, and you respond with conviction. But, maybe you really don’t know, and the pressure of choosing a path has left you confounded. If that sounds like you, there’s still time to figure things out.

Sometimes arriving at the right choice is as simple as charting out your pros and cons. Other times, however, finding the right major is about following your heart, paying attention to your natural skills, and taking classes outside of your comfort zone. Here’s how to choose a major that is right for you.

Who Are You?

Deciding on a major doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Start with what you know. Who are you? Picking the right major means being honest about who you are and what you actually like to do.

Of course, this can be very difficult when parents and siblings want to weigh in on your choice. Mom and dad might want you to be an engineer, but you might really want to study anthropology. It’s important to learn what makes you tick and what you like to study. Taking several electives, especially in your first year, should help in this process. Not only will you have the opportunity to explore new areas of study, but you will also be fulfilling graduation requirements.

What Do You Stand For?

This is an interesting question — and one that is not always easily answered. What matters to you? If you can think about the areas in your life, or the world, that you could change for the better, what would they be? Do you want to fight for those things? Or are you more passive in your advocacy?

For example, you may feel strongly about women’s rights. And from this passion, you may decide to study pre-law, with the intention of becoming an advocate for women. Or, you may feel strongly about improving the quality of healthcare and have an interest in engineering. To compromise, you earn a degree in biomedical engineering. Making a list of what you stand for will further eliminate major choices that do not measure up to your true passions and interests.

Still Unsure?

Take a personality test. It seems crazy, but there are plenty of tests out there that provide helpful insights as to how you process information and interact with the world around you.

You may want to start with the Myers-Briggs test — a comprehensive analysis of personality and character. The results of this questionnaire will help you understand how you think, how you handle conflict, what matters most to you, and what you search for in others. You’ll find a lot more satisfaction in a career that provides you with the opportunity to express and use your preferences.

Passion Meets Practicality

In addition to finding a path that fits your inner passions, you will need to determine if this is a viable option for future employment. You may love poetry, but have you examined the success rate of professional poets? This is a tough choice to make for many students — finding a balance between doing something fulfilling and doing something that makes money.

The real question comes down to grit. Are you willing to do this every day, even if it does not make you money? Likely, you will say “no” to options that have no reasonable future for employment. Not making money is a luxury that most of us cannot afford.  

Trial and Error Method

Admittedly, sometimes the best course of action is a simple trial and error problem-solving method. You may need to take classes outside of your comfort zone. Try learning a language or taking an art class. Maybe you hear great things about humanistic studies, and you’re interested in developing your writing skills.

Whatever the path, be willing to fail. It’s okay if you do not end up liking the course. You may very well decide that molecular biology is not for you, and this may push you to focus on literature. Just be sure to listen to your gut when you feel that something is not right.

However, not every class within your major is going to be fun. While it is important to follow your gut, it is also prudent to remember that some classes are going to be less exciting than others. Consider it par for the course. You can’t expect to reach your degree in Italian without getting in the trenches with complex, ancient literature. It’s all part of what makes earning a degree such a worthwhile feat.

Can’t Find a Class? Find a Club!

Yes, it happens. You may be having a hard time finding a class that speaks to you. In this case, you’ll want to expand your horizons and explore your school’s club options. Trust us, they’re out there.

Most colleges and universities have robust extracurricular fairs at the beginning of each year. This is a chance for you to get out, meet new people, and discover a hidden passion you never realized you had. Even if it’s the middle of the semester, you can still drop in and see if you find something you like.

 How to Choose a Major that is Right for You

Talk to an Academic Advisor

This is what they are there for. They are waiting for you to book an appointment so that they can share their wisdom. They want to help you succeed, even if that means scheduling more than one session. Use this resource. It is incredibly helpful. Advisors add unique insight to specific majors, professors, and even career outlooks. They can help you design a schedule that both fits your interests, as well as explores new avenues.

Choosing the Right Major

The quest to find the right major can begin well before college even starts. Some people just know what they want to be, and their decision never wavers. If this is the case, selecting the right major is really about choosing the right school.

Do your research. Know which programs have capacity-constrained admissions and which ones have the highest graduation rates. You will also want to look for evidence of living-learning communities, professor resources, and tutoring opportunities.

It is also wise to look into the alumni network tied to your major of interest. Especially at larger universities, these networks can lend a big hand in landing a job after graduation. Just make sure to seek professional advice from an academic advisor or professor before reaching out to an alum.  

Be aware that you may change your mind, and that is okay. Many undergraduates find themselves lost in a sea of majors. And quite honestly, interests change. Be forgiving of yourself and allow your path to change toward the area of study that makes the most sense to you. Often, all it takes is one great class to spark interest in a career.

Cut the Noise

Be careful not to give too much weight to other people’s opinions unless, of course, that person is an advisor or well-intentioned professor. Only you can make this decision. Sure, that may seem hard when all of your friends or parents are trying to weigh in. But, cut out that noise. Once you’ve made your decision, be proud. Stand by your choice and work hard toward your goal.  Still unsure of how to choose a college major? Take our quiz and find your passion. You may very well find the answer you were looking for!