How to Choose a Major
Q: How do I determine what I should major in?
A: As students begin the process of searching for a college or university, oftentimes criteria and factors that are ultimately ancillary to the primary purpose of the pursuit -- education -- rise to the top and dominate the decision-making process. We are not saying that size, distance from home, proximity to an urban environment, diversity, or any one of a hundred other criteria are not important! They are! But too often, we find our students overlook the academic pursuit: what do you want to major in?
What follows are a number of points to consider. This is not a checklist to follow in order, necessarily, as we have found that different students with different needs have been able to access these various points with varying degrees of success and at different times throughout their journey to college.
Reflect on your favorite subjects. Which subjects have you enjoyed the most? Which have stood out to you? Are there particular projects or certain types of assignments that you particularly enjoyed or recall? Dig at this.
Reflect on your favorite activities. What do you enjoy doing outside of the classroom? Keep in mind that very few college majors have a “high school equivalent” subject that can give you a flavor of that discipline. Instead, though, are there activities that you do that you enjoy or that make you think about long term?
Consider your passions, if you have them. This is a dangerous topic -- and one that we will address more thoroughly in a separate post -- but do you have a passion? Most high school students do not, to be clear. That said, if you do have a passion, consider whether it is something that you might want to pursue. Sometimes pursuing a passion formally through education or other structure can make it lose its allure.
Reflect on your strengths and aptitudes. What types of things are you good at? When you reflect across your life -- in and out of the classroom -- are there particular skills or strengths that you have shown a particular talent or interest in?
What has staying power? When you think about putting time and effort into something, what stands out? Can you think about topics or subjects that you think you would enjoy pursuing for a lengthy period of time (2-3 years)? Are there skills that you think you would like to employ over that time?
Employability? Also dangerous, but it is worth thinking about whether your particular field of interest leads to employability. Can you get a job in this field? If so, is it already saturated? Is the field dying or otherwise disappearing?
Reflect, Revisit, Research. For most students, there is time to think. Outside of the US, students need to know what they want to major in at the time of application during the senior year, and so before that students should take advantage of the time. Regularly revisit the idea of your major and then do research on it! Keep digging, keep learning!
Talk it out. Talk to people who know you well -- teachers, counselors, parents, friends -- about what fields they can see you pursuing. What do they think? Friends often have a certain perspective of us that we do not necessarily hold, not because it is inaccurate but because we do not see ourselves very clearly. Consider seriously what they say and try to get at why they see you that way.
Try it on. A wonderful approach as you circle the wagons on a particular major it to “try it on” and to begin to tell people your intentions. Some get worried that they will change their minds and therefore others will think less of them. Don’t worry about that. It is perfectly acceptable to change your mind, but sharing with others your intentions gives us an avenue to receiving feedback on our choices.
Change your mind. In fact, if you think you have settled on a major, try to change your mind! Find your second choice and explore it a bunch. We often railroad ourselves and our energies when we find something we like that we can exclude other possibilities. Try to change your own mind!
Research university programs. At some stage, it is helpful to begin looking at the programs that universities offer. What courses would you take? What professors would you have? Does that experience look interesting to you? Get on those websites and explore!
Research career opportunities. Take time to explore the career possibilities for selected majors. Google can help a lot here. What fields do certain majors lead into? What sounds interesting?
Gauge your commitment. At some level, you need to confront your level of commitment. Some students choose a major and never look back. However, we all should take the time to be honest with ourselves about how committed we actually are to this major. Did we choose it to meet family pressures or expectations? Did we choose it because it sounded nice early in the process but has not weathered the test of time? Is it something that we are not all that interested in? Be honest. Refocus. Reframe. Start again. It is okay!
In the end, everyone is approaching this work from different starting points and from different angles. But don’t forget that it does require time, effort, and energy!