When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

College Prep

Our counselors answered:

When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

Leigh Anne Spraetz

Your choice of major should align with your application

If you have toured colleges, you’ve already heard that the most popular major for freshmen is “Undecided.” Colleges understand that most 18-year-olds don’t know what they want to major in or what career they will pursue. However, if you do choose a major, it should align with your application. For instance, for engineering, your transcript should show high grades and strong rigor in math and science classes. Identify potential careers by thinking about your favorite and least favorite classes, and by taking career assessments. Use opportunities to intern or job shadow to help you learn more about your interests.

Lisa Carlton
Owner www.collegematchpoint.com

Exploration leads to a solid college major

Students tend to find their majors in a couple of ways. The most common is that they take a course that really sparks their interest in a subject. I encourage students to get to know the professors in these courses. Ask the professor about the field and the emerging trends within it. It is also a good idea to talk with other students in the major. Another path for finding a major is volunteer work or an internship. Real world experience brings the field alive in a way that course work alone cannot.

Mary Ann Willis

Change is the name of the game

Your parents never dreamed of studying nanotechnology or microcomputers. Your career path might not exist yet. Communicating effectively, thinking logically, and questioning critically are career essentials. While you build those skills, consider your other strengths. What do you like? Working with things, people, information? Inside or outside? With great structure or great freedom? From the moment you step on campus, locate and use the career planning office. Take interest inventories; practice interviewing; craft your resume; check out internships, and schedule interviews. Graduation arrives in a blink. Learning on the job is a lifetime endeavor. Do what you love and you’ll love what you do.

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

Picking a Major

Students and their parents are very concerned about selecting a major and knowing the impact it will have on a career, and rightly so; college education is a very expensive proposition. However, there is no simply answer to the question about a major. History majors go on to medical school; English majors become attorneys; and education majors become accountants. The best advice is to do your best in whatever major you choose and do something that you really love rather than just choosing a major because it will look good on a resume. Students should make sure that if their college has course options that are career-related (not necessarily the case in liberal arts schools) that they try those courses. Another very important consideration are internships. I believe they are every bit as important in hiring and career development than the area in which a student majors or minors. As for when to pick a major, that is entirely dependent on the college. Students should read up on policies and deadlines regularly and talk to faculty in the areas that are interesting. In larger universities, there may be specific colleges that have career impact. Georgetown comes to mind because it has college of arts and sciences, a college for international relations, and a college for business. Remember also that students very often change majors and career direction. How do they really know at age 18 what they will want to do at age 28?

王文君 June Scortino
President IVY Counselors Network

very important to receive career counseling

I suggest you to visit the university's career center or placement services during your college visits each time. if you are not planning to go to graduate school, then you should consider your career path very serioulsy before picking a major in college. it will cost you more time and money to change majors.

Nancy Meislahn
Dean of Admission & Financial Aid Wesleyan University

Liberal arts colleges and programs LOVE the undecided!...

PLEASE resist the pressure to pick a major to make the college process easier. Relatives and counselors will all ask: what do you want to study? Tell admission officers and write in your applications about ALL the things that interest you. We seek curious and creative students, well-prepared to explore across the curriculum. Ask the adults you respect what they studied in college… and you’ll find there are many pathways and routes to law school, teaching, business, etc. etc. Choice is the hallmark of US Higher Education—don’t limit your horizons!

Reecy Aresty
College Admissions/Financial Aid Expert & Author Payless For College, Inc.

When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

Usually by the 3rd year or you'll be extending your date of graduation. If you're lucky enough to be 90-100% focused, it'll make all the difference in the world. I majored in French, and when I got out of college, I turned down a low-paying job in a language institute. I got into sales, and since 1977 I've been in financial services. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist, but when I found out you couldn't keep what you found (unless you were Moshe Dyan) I had to change my focus.

Moira O'Riordan
College Counselor St. Ignatius High School

Study what you love and you will thrive...

The happiest people I know love their work. The happiest students I know love their classes and their schools. I know an oncologist at Sloan Kettering who majored in dance and still takes sabbaticals to dance with a troupe. I know many students who’ve switched majors because of a dynamic professor and are thriving in their careers: An engineering student who switched to English became a successful technical writer; a business student who loved welding became a successful iron-sculptor, and a Classics major who fell in love with archeology. Skills gained through extra-curricular activities and internships make job applicants stand out.

Michael Goran
Director & Educational Consultant IvySelect College Counseling

Explore Your Major Possibilities...

A student was absolutely certain that he wanted to major in biology and be pre-med. His extracurricular activities included working with autistic children, hospital volunteerism and genetic research in a clinic. I spoke with him just weeks after college began and he was in the business school! He found the program and students much more to his liking. Students change majors frequently in college. Yet, you can “test drive” a major now through job shadowing and internships. Also, go to web sites like http://uncw.edu/STUAFF/CAREER/Majors/index.htm, to learn about majors of interest and the potential careers that may emanate from those majors.

Craig Meister
President Tactical College Consulting

There’s no rush to declare, but start researching early...

Most students can’t confidently pick a major when they are eighteen years old; therefore, most colleges won’t penalize you for applying as “undecided.” Far more important to most admissions officers is a student’s ability to communicate clearly about his or her current passions. Figuring out your college major takes time, that’s why most colleges give students four semesters to pick a major. Start conducting online research during your freshman year in high school. The Internet is full of information describing the diversity of college majors. Less time spent on Facebook now can help you pick the right college major later.