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How to Pick Your Major

Editorial Staff

Finding your way through the academic ocean

Once you’ve started college, the hard decisions aren’t behind you yet—

At some point once you have started college, all students face the question: “What is your major?”  Whether you’re a hardened upperclassman or a doe-eyed freshman, the question can be intrusive, annoying, or panic-inducing. In the end, you want your major to reflect your passion but also parlay it into a career. How do you find the perfect major that lets you take the classes you want and get the job you love?

Know Yourself

Students should start with a basic analysis of their personality types and skills, says Dr. Laurence Shatkin, author of The Panicked Student’s Guide to Choosing a College Major.  Once you’re honest with yourself about your study habits, you’ll be able to consider how good a fit a major is for you academically.

Listen To Yourself

When it comes to your major, what makes you happy isn’t necessarily what makes your parents, uncle, best friend, or roommate happy—and that’s okay.  It can be intimidating to tell someone that you’re doing your own thing, especially when they’re paying for your education, but keep things in perspective: it’s your future, and you’re the one who has to live it. This doesn’t mean to blow everyone off, but know when to listen to advice and when to say no to pressure.

Know What You Don’t Want

Looking at the list of majors offered in your college, try marking off the ones you have any interest in, even if you know nothing about it and just want to learn more. Also, try crossing out all of the majors you’re not interested in.  It should be a lot easier, and you’ll end up with a list of majors that you want to at least explore a little bit.

Consider Your Career…

Everyone knows someone who knows someone who got into their perfect, well-paying dream job by accident in a totally different field from their college major.  Unfortunately, if you need to make a decision now, the fact is a résumé with relevant work and field experience immediately stands out as a solid choice. You don’t need to know what exactly you want to do, but knowing that you want to work in a hospital will help you choose something in the biological sciences rather than something mathematical. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

Consider Your Passions, Too

Working toward a future doesn’t mean sacrificing the present, and finding career success doesn’t have to mean being rich or famous. They might for some people, but for everyone else your career shouldn’t be the only consideration when choosing a major.  There are so many different interrelated jobs that you should make sure you’re moving in the right direction but only if you’re certain of the direction. Don’t get too attached to a specific career goal and be willing to explore your passions and not only your professional interests.

Discover New Interests

Did you take an elective that turned out to be more exciting than you thought?  Did a friend end up in a class that you wish you had taken? Maybe it’s time to explore an interest you didn’t know you had! You might just find yourself stumbling across a new passion and, with it, a major – but you’ll never know unless you take the plunge. So check out those course schedules, and take a look at a discipline you’ve never considered before. You never know what you might find.

Talk To Upperclassmen

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential majors to a few possibilities, it’s time to evaluate them practically. You may love economics, but will you enjoy the way it’s taught at your school? If you’re an English major, will you have to understand Shakespeare, the one thing you could never get in high school English? The best way to find out is to ask upperclassmen, since they’ve been where you’re standing. Find someone in the major you’re interested in and ask about the classes, the teachers and the opportunities for going outside the standard curriculum. They’ll know what they’re talking about from first-hand experience. Just remember to take all advice with a pinch of salt, because it’s your call in the end.

Consider All Your Options

Can’t choose just one, or want to explore more than one field?  Consider double- or even triple-majoring, major and minoring, choosing a concentration, or any combination of the above, depending on what your school offers. At most colleges, you can double-major, finishing both programs in their entirety, and you’d be able to study two fields at once. Or choose a minor and take classes in a field without committing to a full major. Can’t find the right major to meet your needs? Talk to your dean or advisor – many schools offer a program to create your own custom major, in case the one you want just doesn’t exist (yet).

Don’t Be Afraid To Change

If you find yourself getting bored or frustrated with your classes, take a step back and reevaluate.  You might have chosen a major that’s not a perfect fit for you, and that’s okay.

Be Realistic

Ultimately, the major you choose isn’t just about a career or a passion — it should be about both.  Your career should be something you’re interested in and your major should help to get you where you want to be, not limit your choices. The point of a major isn’t to box you into specific jobs, but to help you learn about things you love.

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