Choosing a major can be tricky for many college-bound freshmen and even for current students. There’s a lot of pressure from parents and peers, and students have diverse interests that don’t always seem to relate to a specific career or major. Many students change majors, often multiple times, and spend more than four years completing their degrees by the time they settle on a subject of study. With tuition rates at an all-time high, even one additional semester can become prohibitively expensive. Today, I’m going to outline some tips for narrowing down your options, but I would like to point out these college alternatives in case you’re still undecided or if maybe you’re interested in finding another career path.
- Try an Interactive Web App
First, you can use a web service or app to help you pick a major. I’ve personally looked at MyMajors.com and was surprised by its recommendations. (Its number one choice for me was biological engineering; I majored in biochemistry.) The site asks you a series of questions designed to gauge your interest in a variety of topics. Once you’ve finished the initial survey, the website offers you a list of majors that match your interests and common career paths related to these majors. This can be especially helpful for those of you who don’t already have a prospective course of study. In addition, the site provides information about each of your major and career options, allowing you to explore the possibilities.
- Look at Self-Help Books
If you prefer books to computers, there are several titles that can help in your search for the perfect major. For example, StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath helps you learn more about yourself and where your strengths lie. The book includes an assessment to provide you with information about areas in which you excel and how to develop these natural talents to create a meaningful career. Now, StrengthsFinder 2.0 won’t tell you which courses of study might be right for you, but it will help you discover general facts about yourself that you can use to narrow down your career and major options.
- Talk to Your Advisors
Talking to teachers, professors, and advisors can be very helpful. Often, they will have insight about career and major paths that might interest you. If you school has a college counselor, see if you can make an appointment with him or her and ask for advice about selecting a major. Be prepared to ask questions and share information about your academic and extracurricular interests. Though your counselor can’t choose your major for you, he or she can always provide you with suggestions to help you focus your options.
- Study Everything
If you still don’t have a clue about what to study, try exploring introductory courses in a variety of fields. See what you like, what you don’t, talk to your professors and peers, and don’t feel pressured to declare a major before you’ve developed your interests. Conversely, if you’ve already declared a major and know you want to change it, don’t be afraid to switch. Many employers value a variety of skills, so having experience in diverse fields often aids in your job search. Furthermore, many professions (and graduate schools) are open to individuals with a major outside the industry so long as the candidate has taken the necessary prerequisite courses.
- Consider Your Intended Career
You may find that it’s easier to start your major selection process by thinking about careers that interest you. If you’re highly motivated to pursue a specific career, you can plan your course load accordingly. But keep in mind that many professionals work in fields unrelated to their college majors and even switch career paths later in life. And, as I mentioned earlier, employers often look for candidates with a range of skills and talents, so it never hurts to take classes outside your major. Though nothing is set in stone, having professional goals can help you focus your studies.
- Do Some Research
Still haven’t found what you’re looking for? See what you can find on the internet about common career paths, and look for information about what jobs are available in various fields. The U.S. government provides a plethora of information about most every career in its Occupational Outlook Handbook. The handbook describes each job in detail, providing education requirements, salary information, a guide on how to find work in that field, and data about the occupation’s outlook (i.e. the number of openings in that field and its expected growth over ten years). If you’ve already taken the survey on MyMajors.com, you can use the Occupational Outlook Handbook to decide if a specific industry or profession is right for you.