Choosing a Major
Do well in school, go to a good college, study something useful, graduate and get a good job, make lots of money. Sound familiar? Sure, this narrative might have evolved over the years, but it’s probably what you’ve been hearing your whole life so far.
We’re here to tell you: it’s not that simple (and that’s a good thing!).
One part of your success in college and your subsequent career is picking a major. It’s a stressor for many juniors and seniors, because it feels like this choice will dictate what career path you take—aka the rest of your life. People who don’t know exactly what they want to study may end up feeling lost or anxious.
If that’s you, or even if you’ve got an idea of the direction you want to go, we hope some of these tips and guidelines will be helpful in choosing a major that sets you up for success.
- Understand admissions. Nowadays, most colleges don’t require you to declare a major during the application process. Since you’ll have “gen ed” (basic core classes like math, English, foreign language, etc.) courses to knock out, you most likely won’t be taking courses in your major in your first semester, or maybe even your freshman year.
That said, some majors have a lot of credit hours needed (in other words, you have to take a lot of courses in your major relative to other subjects), so you might need to apply into that program. Super-competitive engineering or nursing programs are examples of that. They tend to be more selective than general admissions, but if accepted, you’ll have a great head start on your years in college. Do your homework on prospective colleges’ websites to be sure what’s expected of you as you apply.
- Play to your strengths. It seems obvious, but you should choose a major that you think you’ll thrive in. This doesn’t mean that if you struggle in a certain subject, but you’re passionate about it, that you can’t choose that major. It just means you’ll have to do a little more outside the classroom. Picking a subject where you’ve historically done well will also mean you’re going into your major with some exposure to the subjects you’ll be studying.
- Pick something you’ll enjoy (at least a little!). It is super tempting to pick your major based on: will my parents approve? Is it “practical” for my future job search? Is it a career where I’ll make a lot of money? These are great questions and absolutely factors for consideration. However… Four years is a long time to study something you think is a drag. If you choose based on practicality alone, you might find it really difficult to do well in your studies, because you’re just not passionate about the subject.
- Know you won’t be doing this 24/7. Typically, colleges require somewhere around 120 hours for a Bachelor’s degree. That shakes out to about 15 credit hours, or 5 courses, per semester. Your major is almost always less than 100 hours—some could be as few as 60 or 70. That means you’ll have plenty of time to take courses outside your discipline, to pursue a minor/concentration, or to do some independent research.
- Consult your resources. Talk to adults you trust, in and out of school. College counselors and, once you’re in school, academic or professional advisors have been around the block; they can provide great advice based on what they’ve seen throughout the years and based on your unique situation.
You don’t have to know right now. When you’re in the thick of admissions, it feels like everyone knows exactly what they want to do except you. But, according to CollegeRaptor, most students don’t declare their major until sophomore year. You are allowed to step back and take your time to figure out what’s best for you.