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How to Choose a Major in College: 3 Considerations

By Chris Quarto on July 20, 2018

College can be a wonderful yet anxiety-provoking experience for students.  Wonderful from the standpoint of freedom, friends and Frisbee, but anxiety-provoking in terms of having to answer the question, “What am I going to do with my life?”  In some ways, college offers many students a temporary reprieve from the mundane responsibilities of adulthood:  get up, go to work, come home, go to bed and repeat for the next thirty years.  Luckily, college students nowadays don’t feel the same pressure to select and commit to the “right” major as employers are not as insistent that job applicants have majored in specific areas not to mention that students do not go into the work force thinking that they will work for a particular company or organization for their entire work life.  Still, college students feel pressure to make a decision when asked by parents, friends and others, “So what’s your major in college?”  For some students being asked this question is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard – it makes them cringe!  This is a decision that all students must make at some point, however, and there are three things you might consider when faced with it:

1. “What am I good at?”  This might seem self-evident, yet some students totally overlook this point.  Playing to your strengths means that you’re more likely to be successful in classes (within a major) that align with those strengths.  It also increases the chances that you will be satisfied in a post-college occupation that requires skills in your area of strength.

2. “What are my interests?”  It is entirely possible that you are good at certain things (i.e., have strengths in certain areas), but have moderate to low interest in them.  Likewise, some students are really talented in certain areas (e.g., singing, playing a musical instrument, solving mechanical problems), but would not derive much satisfaction studying these things formally or working in a job that requires those skills.  College career centers oftentimes offer students opportunities to take career interest inventories to help in this decision-making process.  In fact, you may have taken these inventories in middle school or high school, but things change as people grow older so it may be worth your while to take one again and discuss your results with a counselor or psychologist.

3. “Who am I?”  This is probably the most important of the three questions and, in fact, the other two questions probably fall under the umbrella of this one.  How you see and define yourself – in terms of core values, attitudes and beliefs – impact major life decisions including choice of major and work preference.  Given that some students are still trying to “figure out who they are” the identity formation process may take a while, which can subsequently make it confusing and anxiety-provoking to select a major.  Other students ignore or put off making a decision – sometimes purposely, sometimes not – because they simply don’t feel ready to make a commitment.  Ultimately, however, a decision must be made.  So what are you to do?

A relatively painless first step is to do some self-reflection regarding your strengths, interests and identity.  You might even consider talking to a roommate, friend or family member about these things as they might see things in you that you don’t recognize or haven’t given much thought to.  Next, select three majors that most closely align with these things and learn as much as you can about them as well as the types of jobs people get with those degrees.  In terms of identifying majors you might consider completing a short quiz:  https://www.thoughtco.com/college-major-quiz-4089204  A good place to find information about what you can do with a major can be found on the “What Can I Do With This Major?” website: https://whatcanidowiththismajor.com/major/majors/ It also makes sense to talk to people who are working in fields that require a particular major and find out what they like most and least about them.  In addition, consider watching career videos (http://www.drkit.org/careervideos/) and doing some job shadowing so you get a better sense of what it would be like to work in those fields.

Choosing a major is not as straight forward as many people make it out to be.  Although you may have been 100% sure of what you wanted to major in in high school things can – and do – change when you get to college.  It’s not an easy thing to say goodbye to the prospect of a career that you have been thinking and dreaming about for years.  You might even need to allow yourself time to grieve the loss of that dream and give yourself permission to explore other possibilities.  On a positive note, you may eventually find this to be a freeing and exciting experience and find something better in the process.  Happy exploring!

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