8 tips to help you choose a major
"What major should I choose?" I've lost count of how many times I've asked myself that question. Some people know what they want to do with the rest of their lives the moment they come out of the womb. Me? I’m what you call directionally challenged — and I’m not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over 80% of college students change their major at least once, and three times on average. If you're not sure what you want to do for the rest of your life, here are some tips to help you in choosing a major.
1. Finish your general education requirements first
Most colleges require a minimum number of general education credits in order to graduate, regardless of major. Many require math, science, English, social science, communication, and technology classes. If you’re having a hard time choosing a major, you may as well finish your general education requirements first to buy yourself time to decide. Look up the general requirements for graduation, and start building your schedule. And who knows, you may fall in love with one of the classes and find your destiny.
2. Explore a variety of classes
If you’re uncertain how to choose a major, try going for breadth over depth. Sign up for introductory courses that sound interesting to you. For me, that meant taking introductory classes in everything from landscape architecture to engineering to accounting to music during my freshman year. Through exploring different paths early, you can find out what you do and don’t like — without betting too much on any one path. Just remember, you're paying for every class and the sooner you graduate, the less it'll cost, so don't order EVERYTHING on the menu!
3. Brainstorm about the future and work backward
Though preparing you for the workplace isn’t the only objective of a college education, it certainly is an important one. Instead of waiting until graduation to search for jobs in your academic field (and possibly wishing you could start college over again to get the job you actually want), do your research up front. Brainstorm the jobs that you could see yourself doing in the future, find out what kinds of degrees they require, and use that information to help you choose a major.
4. Play to your strengths and passions
If you’re a good writer, consider a major in English, journalism, marketing, or communication. If you like math and science, look into a STEM field. Are you interested in drawing, photography, or painting? A degree in fine arts or graphic design may inspire you. Do you have a knack for helping people? Then a career in Psychology, social work, or education may be right for you. Having a passion for your classes will make studying fun and more likely lead to a fulfilling career.
5. Consider the return on your education
Money isn’t everything, but when figuring out how to choose a major, it’s not a bad idea to weigh the cost of school with the expected salary and demand of your career. If you’re uncertain about what you want to do, many public and private institutions offer scholarships to fill careers of unmet demand such as education, public service, and technology. If the fields that offer funding appeal to you, why not give them a try? You’ll save money on tuition and most likely enter a field with plentiful job opportunities.
7. Consult your school's career center
Your school may have a campus guidance counselor or career counselor on staff whose entire job is to help inform and advise you throughout your decision-making process. They can give you ideas about the types of jobs you may enjoy based on your preferences and interests. If you’re not in the mood to consult a career expert, you could always take a personality test like Meyers-Briggs. This test will predict some of your personality traits and suggest careers that may be well suited to your personality.
7. When in doubt, try it out
Internships and externships are your friends. What better way to get a taste of the benefits of a major than to experience a potential workplace firsthand? For many students, semester-long or summer-long internships serve as either a confirmation that they're in the right major, or an indication that it may be time to try something else. If you’re not ready to commit for that long (most internships last at least two months), you may want to look into externships. Externships give you a chance to shadow a professional to see their day-to-day activities, and are typically shorter than internships. Not only can internships and externships help you gauge your interest in a potential field of study, they can often be taken for college credit.
8. Talk to people who know you well
Sometimes the people who love us know us better than we know ourselves. Even if they can’t foresee the perfect major and career for you, they may be able to point out options you hadn’t thought of or eliminate ones that aren’t right. And often, talking through problems can help you arrive at an answer.
Choosing a major doesn’t have to happen immediately, and when it does, it may not stick. Chances are you’ll change your major a few times along the way, and that’s OK. Keep thinking and learning and eventually it’ll all come together.
Use our in-college job and internship search to test-drive your major in the real world.
Animations courtesy of Giphy.
About the author
Stephanie is a sophomore industrial engineering major at Clemson University. In her free time, she loves to sing, teach English as a second language, and listen to musical soundtracks obsessively. Oh, and eat. She loves to eat.