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Choosing a college major

Janelle Vreeland

How to choose a college major that is right for you

For many students, having an “undecided” major is a stress-inducing, panic stricken thought. A lot of students walk into a college or university under the impression that they need to declare a major ASAP in order to take full advantage of their academic time. Take a moment and consider this: If your “Undecided” major declaration is causing you anxiety and stress, step back and take a deep breath. You aren’t alone. 

The reality is, very few undergrads walk into college knowing exactly what they want to major in. “I would say that there are less people than you think that come into college and automatically know what they want to do,” said Michael Elias, a Career Specialist at DePaul University’s Career Center. Furthermore, a majority of students change their major at least once or twice during their college career.

To stress the point even further, a handful of students that graduate with a degree in a specific major end up with careers in completely different fields or industries. What all of this means is that your declared major is not going to restrict you from doing something you want if you change your mind. As Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. said on Quint, “studies show that most people will change careers — yes, careers — about four or five times over the course of their lives -– and no major exists that can prepare you for that!”

Now that the stress of choosing a major has hopefully been lifted a smidge, the most important thing to focus on when declaring a major is self awareness. “It’s important to know what your interests and values are. At DePaul, we look at four areas to help students choose a major: interests, personality, skills and values,” said Elias. According to DePaul University’s Career Roadmap, knowing yourself is the first step in choosing a major or a career path. “It is important to know who you are, what you like, and what is important to you when thinking about majors and careers.” 

Ask yourself a couple of questions. What are your interests? What values are important to you? What comes easily for you? What skill sets do you posses? If you are already a student at a university or college, chances are there are advisors at your disposal to help you figure out the answers to these questions. There are also a number of tools you can utilize to figure out the answers to these questions. Personality tests such as the Myers Briggs Type-Indicator help you understand your interests and your preferences on how you perceive the world which may help you decide what path you want to take in life.

It is also important to remember that the major you choose does not have to define or pigeon hole you. Michael Elias often tells students that come to him with questions on their future career path that what matters most are the experiences you acquire. “What matters most are your internships and experiences. You may be unhappy with your major and not have enough time to change it, but you can look for internships in the field you are interested in. Those internships will give you knowledge and experience, and that will help you find a job in that field.”

Another issue some students struggle with is uncertainty about what they can do with a major once they’ve declared it. “Students want to know what jobs they can get with the major they chose and what career paths they will be able to take,” said Elias. Chances are your university or college has resources you can utilize to show you what careers are possible with the major you have chosen. If you can meet with an advisor talk to him/her about your coursework and see if you are able to take courses in different majors so you can get an idea of what you like doing and what you are good at. “Remember that choosing a major does not mean that you can do only that when you graduate. You always have options,” Elias said.

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