What To Consider When Selecting Your College Major
Published on: December 13, 2023
Choosing which college or university to attend is very important, but choosing a major is often even more difficult for students. Research has shown that about 30 percent of undergraduates in associate's and bachelor's degree programs who had declared a major changed their minds at least once within three years of initial enrollment, and about one in ten students also changed majors more than once (https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018434.pdf). With such a vast range of majors to choose from, it can be overwhelming for students to make the right choice. If you need help to make up your mind, here are some things to consider when selecting your college major.
What Is The Difference Between a Major and a Degree?
When earning a degree, your area of focus for your studies is your major. In essence, a degree combines general education requirements, your major, and electives. So, the degree provides the overarching structure of your studies, while the major dictates the focus. Generally, a bachelor's degree requires about 120 credits, while a major only makes up 30-36 credits of coursework. For example, a student can select engineering as their degree and then pick a field like mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or aerospace engineering as their major. Students can sometimes even pick a concentration within their major, such as nuclear engineering, automotive engineering, automation, and robotics, or manufacturing for mechanical engineering majors. Common disciplinary categories for majors include business, engineering, psychology, biology, and health professions.
Do I Have To Declare My Major Right Away?
Students often believe they must declare their major as soon as they enroll in a degree program, but this is not the case. It can differ from college to college, but in general, students must only declare their major by the end of their sophomore year. This is done so students can focus on their general education courses first and have time to explore the various available electives. There are advantages to declaring your major right away but being too hasty can mean switching majors later, which may result in extra semesters to fulfill all the requirements.
Things To Consider Before Choosing Your Major
What Are You Passionate About?
People are happier and more fulfilled when doing something they love, so it is crucial to figure out what you are passionate about before choosing your major. If you study something that you genuinely enjoy, it will also be easier to be more engaged in your classes. Evaluate your interests, strengths, and weaknesses to see if these align with a subject you will enjoy learning more about on a deeper level. Don't worry if you can't come up with a clear-cut answer, though, as many people only discover their passion after starting their studies and encountering new subjects.
What Career Prospects Are Available?
For a major to be helpful, it has to align with whatever career you are interested in pursuing after your studies. Make sure that whatever you choose can enhance your career prospects and provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to become a desirable job candidate. It is also helpful to look at factors such as earning potential to see what type of return on investment you will get from your major. Money shouldn't be the only factor when choosing a major, but knowing what to expect can help avoid disappointment.
Can You Turn To Someone For Advice?
Once you have narrowed your options to a few majors, it is time to ask someone for advice. It can be helpful to speak to someone who has completed the major or works in a field where the major is applicable. If this is not possible, you can also contact an advisor or faculty member who works in that major for advice or answers to any questions you might have. In addition to speaking to people with similar career goals, talking to people in other majors or fields for a different perspective and insights on why they chose what they did can be helpful.
Can You Get Some Experience Before Deciding?
While it is not possible for all career types or majors, getting real hands-on experience in fields your major can lead to before deciding is invaluable. This can be accomplished via internships or volunteer work and is one of the best ways to see what your day-to-day life in the profession could be like. Also, be on the lookout for introductory classes that are sometimes available for specific majors. Doing these helps determine if the major is something you will want to continue studying.
Choosing the right major is important, but plenty of other factors play a role when it comes to landing your dream job. Certain industries, like healthcare, care a lot about applicants' majors, while others place a bigger emphasis on experience and internships when choosing candidates. In addition, there are plenty of majors with transferable soft skills that can lead to career paths that fall outside of the traditional scope of the major. The most important thing is to pick a major that aligns with your interests and strengths. It is not uncommon for people to end up in careers that are unrelated to their major, so don't worry too much if you find it hard to decide on what to pick. Many people also switch jobs later in life, and earning another degree part-time online is possible if you see something else that interests you.