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College: What to Do if You Don't Know Which Major to Choose

By Edited Nov 25, 2016 1 4
The Sainsbury Research Centre Library
Credit: IWAM2009/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported/Found on Wikimedia Commons

You've met with admissions, poured through the catalogs and saw how many different options there are in choosing a major. Like many new students, you too probably felt a bit overwhelmed by the different educational opportunities available.

Choosing a major is one of the biggest decisions you will be faced with in your college career. This is a decision you do not want to take lightly and/or make a hasty decision. With so many degree offerings and career prospects, you may be wondering how to select which program is right for you?

You Don't Have to Decide Now

As you consider your options it is important to understand you don't necessarily have to make a decision immediately. If you are experiencing any indecisiveness it would be a wise idea to talk to your academic counselor before committing to a specific degree program. Your counselor can provide you with some great tips in how to begin your educational journey and some techniques to help you decide which path is the right one for you.

If you are really torn between a couple of options or are completely undecided, you may want to consider beginning your coursework within a Liberal Arts or General Studies framework. When I worked several years at a college, it was common for academic counselors to recommend this course of study as a starting point for students. Their reasoning is this option gives you the freedom to explore the various areas of study and you can use these classes as a way to explore your interests.

Sampling a broad range of classes also gives you an opportunity to discover the kinds of coursework which appeal most to you and can help lead to you make a more permanent decision. You can always change your major later, or if you are at a community college and plan to transfer, you can carry your Liberal Arts/General Studies Associate degree forward. These are typically a smooth transfer and, if you get your core classes out of the way, you can dig right into the good stuff once you do transfer. However, also look ahead to

You don't want to wait too long though, try and decide within your first two years. Experts remind to keep your "eye on the money" being college is so expensive. Also, many universities will want you to declare, typically in your sophomore year.

Rubber Band Wallet
Credit: Drew Friestedt/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported/Found on Wikimedia Commons

Planning Your First Semester

In your first semester, a good way to help you decide is to create a list of your interests and see which degree programs offer courses which spark your attention and perk your interest. When doing this it is good to keep in mind the availability of careers in your potential discipline. While interests are extremely important, you'll also want to select an area of instruction that appeals to you as a career choice and a degree which will be valuable to you in the job market when you graduate. Remember, this is what you'll be doing after investing money in college.  If an area of expertise shows a forecast decline of positions for the next few years, it might be worth looking at your secondary interests.

One pitfall to avoid is quickly selecting a major and immediately jumping into the degree requirements because most of the time this is a costly mistake. Even if you are sure of your course of study, it's almost always recommended you start your core requirements first because it is not uncommon for students to discover half way through their degree their chosen major isn't quite what they'd expected; by now a lot of time and money will have been spent (and I speak from firsthand experience on this one both personally and professionally).

People grow during their college years and getting the general requirements out of the way allows more time to be sure. This way if you find you have changed your mind, those general education courses can be transferred to another degree program with little or no loss of credit. If you haven't changed your mind in the first few semesters, those degree specific classes will still be waiting for your enrollment.

Plan Ahead as Best as Possible

One tip I always remember is one my mentor gave me at our first meeting. He told me to plan ahead as best as possible; he recommended not jumping into a degree program without a strategy. For instance, if your goal is to get an Associates and/or Bachelors, plan along the lines of a career upon graduation, but if your plan is to continue towards a Masters, you'll want to insure your coursework will be applied to your next level of study, this way you aren't starting over with classes you'll need. For instance, if you decide to pursue an art or English degree and have goals for an MBA, many classes likely won't apply. You might want to look at other art-related degrees that contain business classes or move to something else entirely.

Textbooks
Image credit: Leigh Goessl

Ask your high school counselor, academic advisor, or mentor lots of questions. Remember, he or she is there to help and can help guide you through these important decisions.2 Additionally, if you have somewhat of an idea of what you want to do, you can also try and talk to people already in the field.

Remember Your Personal Interests

When selecting a major, it's most important to choose a degree program you'll be enthusiastic about. Passion is important, unless it's totally unrealistic in terms of getting a job. Never automatically assume the degrees which yield the high paying jobs are the best ones to pursue. If the course of study you've chosen really doesn't strike your fancy, your degree will not be as valuable. In fact, chances are you will end up in a short-lived career you quit due to unhappiness or because you were bored to tears. I saw this a lot in my former job, people coming back to school as an adult to learn something new since they hated their job.

If you really aren't sure of which direction you want to head, don't panic. Instead, consider taking some time to examine your options during your first year. You can't wait forever to decide on a college major, but you do have a little time in your early semesters to spread your wings a bit before you fly.

Bird flying
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved
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Comments

Jan 12, 2015 2:40am
misskimprint
These are all great tips! Thank you for sharing them with us.

I wish I had known these before I applied for college. Unfortunately, I had to go through 4 whole years studying something I am not passionate about.
Jan 13, 2015 6:20am
LeighGoessl
You are definitely not alone, I experienced it to a degree but caught myself half way through community college. I switched mid-stream to a liberal arts major so I could apply the credits. Fortunately, some of those did transfer later on when I picked a different major.

I hope you have since found your passion! Thanks misskimprint for your kind comment. All the best to you.
Jan 13, 2015 12:39pm
ologsinquito
This is excellent advice. Choosing the wrong major can definitely cost you time and money.
Jan 16, 2015 2:50am
LeighGoessl
It definitely can! Thanks so much for reading and your kind comment.
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Bibliography

  1. "5 Ways to Pick the Right College Major." U.S. News. 19/09/2011. 11/01/2015 <Web >
  2. "How to Choose a College Major." Scholarships.com. 11/01/2015 <Web >

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