You’re in high school, a point in life when you need to start thinking about your future and do some initial research to plan for your career. At this stage, you can’t afford to base your future studies on what subject comes easily, or which class your crush is attending.
The further along you get in your college search, the more frequently you’ll get faced with the question of what do you want to major in? For some folks, the answer comes easily. For others it is a source of anxiety; how could you possibly be sure of the right job for the central part of your entire life when you’re only 17 years old?
What degree will make you happy in the next 5, 10, or 15 years? Steps like finding a college major that best fits your goals, the college that offers it, and understanding careers the program can lead to must be considered.
While deciding on these essential factors, the most crucial decision has to be sorted out: what should the right major subject be? How important is that major going to be to you? If you struggle to decide how to choose a college major, don’t stress. (Even if you’re in your second semester of college!)
What is a major in college?
A major is a specific subject area in which a college student specializes their studies. Typically half to two-thirds of the courses you take in college will be in your major or relating to it.
When do you declare a major?
Usually, you don’t have to decide on a major at most four-year colleges until your freshman year. This allows you to try a variety of subjects to discover what you enjoy before you decide, and to earn general education credits that count towards your degree.
It’s important to note that specific majors, like pharmacy, nursing, and finance programs, require students to take all the same required classes and graduate on the same timeline. Compared to others, these majors can be harder to enter in the middle of an academic year as a newly declared major.
Why is choosing a major essential?
Knowing your major can speed up your college search. If you’re interested in a specific career, find out which majors are required and make sure the colleges you’re considering offer them.
How to choose a college major?
Finding the right college major is crucial and tricky, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. Try these 5 steps to start the process:
Consider your interests, skillset and passion
Figure out what you like to do and identify your top skills. These questions may help you to figure out your strengths and interests:
- What drives you? You want to choose something you care about, something that uplifts you. Make a list of things you care about and enjoy doing, inside and outside the classroom. Maybe you’re eager to solve problems; for example, you love analyzing problems and giving solutions – perhaps financial advising is for you. Or if you like to write fiction stories in your spare time, why not major in literature? If you’ve always loved numbers and finances, why not pursue a major in accountancy, finance, or statistics?
- What is the skill people associate you with? For instance, a teacher has praised your creativity or your gift for critical thinking. These compliments could point you to a specific discipline that requires these traits.
- What high school extracurricular activities, projects, or classes do you enjoy? If you love reading or conducting experiments, have paid internships in specific areas or do volunteer work. If you have consistently played a sport or held leadership roles, these experiences can give you clues about the nature of work you would like to pursue.
- What work environment do you see yourself in? Do you want to work in a busy office with a large team or a small firm where you work with just a few colleagues?
- Are you a more sociable or lonesome person? If you value frequent communication with people, you may be interested in people-oriented majors, such as psychology, journalism, business, education or music therapy. If you prefer isolation, you could consider more task-oriented majors—back office desk jobs, accounting, information systems, or cybersecurity.
- Are you more analytical or practical? If you enjoy hands-on and concrete tasks, you may enjoy exercise science, emergency planning and management, fashion merchandising, or supply chain management. If you like to collect and analyze information, solve problems, and make decisions, then law, accounting, business management, and data analysis are all suitable career options.
Research careers that attract you
Your high school schedule may be pretty stiff, which leaves you with time for only a few electives. However, doing some of the following can help you explore different career options:
- Shadowing and interviewing folks in careers you are interested in is a great way to figure out what you might want to study and to learn how to get to where they are now – from their college days onward.
- Reading books and articles on various topics can also help you figure out what excites you. What topics do you find super engaging, and what topics do nothing for you? Exploring like this gives you some clues as to what you might have a natural aptitude for in college. Podcasts are another great resource for probing different topics, especially because you can listen to them while doing chores or other mindless tasks!
- Summer activities are a chance to dive into things you think you might be seriously interested in pursuing. Camps, internships, and volunteering opportunities are all excellent times to become immersed in subjects you may not regularly study at school. There are tons of possibilities to explore!
- Local college events are held in colleges in your vicinity, and you can enquire about upcoming open-house events or presentations. This is usually a good way for members of the public to learn more about the college, programs offered, professors, and the campus.
You might want to research specific career interests, like becoming an anthropologist, petroleum engineer, astrophysicist, lawyer, or veterinarian. Some, but not all, career goals require particular majors or at least prerequisite activities and courses. You can check out the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) a resource that describes numerous career possibilities and their functions for this information. Enjoy the process of exploring your options!
Reach out for guidance and carefully consider career advice
Is it a good idea to get in touch with people who have jobs in the industry that interests you? Yes! Ask if you can interview them. You need to network a lot. Find out if you love their work, the challenges they face, and what changes they see coming in the field that you might have to be ready for.
The best source of advice in college can be your school counsellor. They can explain in detail college majors and program offerings.
A few questions you can ask when seeking advice from the college counsellor you are deciding to apply for are:
- Does the college have college fairs?
- Do they have college planning sessions scheduled?
- Can they put you in touch with recently graduated students?
- Do they have the resources to help in exploring careers?
- Can they suggest ideas and connect you with faculty who can tell you more about the major you’re considering and the future job opportunities?
You can consider taking a college major assessment test, which helps you decide how to choose the right major by answering several questions.
Know how far your major will fit the employability and a lasting career
In other words, will you be able to quickly and readily find employment in a related field after you earn the degree? Avoid the possible discouragement from employment rejection later on by considering a broader field of study rather than something super niche.
The major you choose might give you great employable options, but will it stay for decades to come? Technological progress and innovation, along with artificial intelligence and automation, are changing the game right now, and it’ll only be more so in the future. You need to weigh the economic advantages of your selected major against the reality of automation and the world around us.
Calculate possible salaries and higher-paying fields
This is essential in decision-making. In contrast, some who are motivated by high earnings can be more interested and keen on pursuing a stem-related field. You can refer to sites like Glassdoor and Payscale to research the income potential of various careers that go with a major.
What’s the difference between a major and a minor?
This distinction between major and minor subjects is something that prospective college students need to understand before starting school. Majors make up the bulk of your college courses, and when you graduate, you are expected to have fulfilled all of the requirements to begin in that field. The more significant part of your classes will revolve around your major, making up 40 to 50 credit hours. Upon completing your undergraduate, your major will be mentioned on your diploma.
Minors are secondary fields of study, a lesser specialization complementing the major subject in a degree program. Many colleges require you to have 15 credit hours of classes to qualify as having a minor. For example, if you are majoring in Finance, consider having a minor in banking or insurance, especially if you are hoping to work at a wealth management firm or a Bank.
What if you are taking time to finish a major?
It’s fine to enter college as an undecided major. During your major search process, you don’t need to define your major subject (or even your career for the rest of your life). Colleges allow you to take classes you think you might enjoy or even classes you’ve never been exposed to before. If you find something you are genuinely interested in, declare it your major and consider it a starting point. If you’re unsure, there is nothing wrong with being an undeclared major.
How can you find your major in college?
Volunteer and internship work are the best ways to get real hands-on experience in fields a major can lead to. You’ll get a fundamental understanding of day-to-day life in the profession.
Internships and volunteering help you explore your career path before committing to the major.
College fairs and events can be a great place to learn from visiting colleges or attending events on campus. Colleges hold open houses or accepted student days where department representatives answer questions and offer you their knowledge. There are also students around you who you can talk to about their major and class experiences in that major.
Can you switch to another major?
You can change your major subject in college. Studies find that most students switch majors at least once, and many change several times. No matter what semester or college year you’re in, sometimes the major you declare might not be the right fit. If you plan to change your major, make sure the credits you need align with your expected graduation date. Go to your counsellor for guidance on picking a new major and setting up your schedule.
Some hot college majors
Apart from the traditional safe choices, the enterprising colleges are creating some new majors in emerging fields. Some hot college majors you can explore and might want to consider are:
- Biomedical engineering
- Business analytics
- Computer game design
- Data science
- Forensic science
- Petroleum engineering
- Public health
Be calm and relaxed!
“I still don’t know what I really want to do with the rest of my life!” says an anxious student.
Selecting the right major is just one part of your career journey, and it may not fully determine as much about your future path. The professionalism you cultivate, the experiences you gain through an internship, and the networking connections you build also count. So don’t stress about choosing the “wrong” major.
Your major won’t lock you into a life in just one career field. Colleges that have a liberal arts core curriculum take you to classes in various disciplines, which will refine your ability to master new concepts and skills throughout your life. This gives you the freedom to explore other careers, change jobs, and adapt as job markets change.
Introspection is necessary to do a reality check. Before you conclude and pull the trigger on the major of your choice, remember one thing— make sure you’re clear and happy about your priorities for your life and career after college. Ask yourself:
- What kind of work is suitable for me in the future as a career?
- Will this major I’ve chosen help me towards my desired career path?
- How is the college ranked for the major I’ve chosen for my undergraduate studies?
- Does my chosen major fit my abilities, values, interests, and passions?
- Have I identified all the downsides and disadvantages of my chosen major?
So take some time to ponder what you want, research different fields, and reach out for support at LaunchMyCareer. With assistance and guidance from our internationally certified career coaches, you’ve got this!