Choosing a College Major
Choosing a major can be one of the most important decisions you will make in your career. It impacts your job choices, income, lifestyle, family, even your retirement. It’s worth taking the time to figure out your real interests and career possibilities. What is the best major for you - for your future?
Unfortunately, too many students choose a major based on a favorite professor, suggestions from family or friends, or just whatever sounds good.
Think of your education as an investment in your future. You’re spending thousands of dollars on these classes and opportunities. It’s important to do your research, ask good questions and make the smartest, most individual choice possible.
It’s okay to change majors and many students do - even multiple times throughout their college or university career. But you can save yourself a year or more of wasted class time and some big $$$ by asking the right questions before you begin. Getting started in the right direction puts you lightyears ahead in the career game.
Six Questions to Ask Before Choosing a College Major
Here are a few good questions to get you started in the right direction:
What were your favorite classes and activities in high school? What textbooks did you enjoy reading in high school?
Think about the classes you excelled in and the classes you enjoyed. What did you enjoy learning? What assignments did you enjoy completing? You’re going to spend 4 years studying this field so it helps to enjoy the work. If you enjoyed writing assignments, a major such as journalism, political science or literature makes sense. If you loved science experiments and did great in AP Chemistry, look at STEM or health care fields.
What are the requirements for this major?
A particular major may sound cool - but does it require more math - or more writing than you expected? Reading the required classes for each major can give you a good overview of what you will be studying. Find out what is involved and what pre-requisites are required, how much lab time is involved, or other specifics for the major. Is a foreign language required? What else is required for graduation - a senior project or thesis?Are you willing to commit to finishing those requirements? Do they sound like fun?
Who can I talk to or shadow to find out more about careers in this major?
Before choosing a major, talk with someone who completed this major and who is now working in the field. At the very least, talk to a professor about career possibilities. Ask questions like “What jobs can I get with this major?” “Does this major require graduate school to make it a real career?”
What is the future of this field?
The reality is that in 10 years, some jobs may no longer exist- having been replaced by computers or AI. Many jobs have already disappeared - and the future for others will be limited. Take accounting, for instance, a major that used to lead to solid long lasting careers. Now many of the tasks of accountants can be performed more quickly and reliably by a computer. The field of accounting will change dramatically and possibility diminish. Do your research on different majors. You can simply google “future jobs in chemistry” or “the future of accounting” to get a quick snapshot of the long term outlook for possible majors.
Even better, go talk to a professor or someone working in the field and ask them how technology is changing jobs within the field. Think like a researcher. What will this field look like in 10 years?
How much $$ can I expect to make if I choose this major?
You can think of it as ROI- return on your investment - in a university education. You (or your parents) are likely paying a lot of money for this education. What will be the return on that investment when you graduate? While money should not be the only deciding factor (you don’t want to be stuck in a job you hate just because the salary is good), it just makes good sense to investigate the expected salaries for careers related to this major.
Good websites to Research Jobs and Salaries include:
Glassdoor is a good website to check out salaries for different jobs and fields. It’s free and lists jobs and information for 16 different countries including the US and Canada. Just click on the flag for your country. O’Net Online is also a good source of information with salary information and the job outlook for specific careers in the US.
Again, think like a researcher. Compile as much information as you can about possible majors.
Do I have to choose a major now?
Don’t be forced into cementing yourself into a major too soon. Take general education requirements the first year - to get them out fo the way and to get yourself settled in - while you explore classes in different fields.
It’s worth trying out a couple of areas to see what feels like a good fit. Take a couple of classes in your potential major to see if you enjoy them and find the reading and study interesting. Talk to the professors in these classes about career possibilities. Check out the career center at your university and see what help they have to offer in choosing a career.
It takes time, reflection and research to choose a good college major. Taking the time to do the research and ask the questions can result in a better college or university experience and save you some real dollars in the long run.
If you’re still struggling to decide what to do, try our online Blue Sage Student Career Assessments. It is well worth spending some money figuring out what you want to study- before wasting time and money in the wrong major.
Online Career Assessments:
The budget friendly iStartStrong™ Report is great if you really have no idea where to start and are looking for a good place to narrow down your options. Based on the same research as the Strong Interest Inventory, a gold standard career assessment, it provides time-tested insights to help you identify fields of study and particular areas of interest, along with hyperlinks to the related occupations in the O’Net Database, a broad listing of careers with educational requirements and salary guidelines. It’s a great place to begin. Currently on sale at 50% off! Find about more here.
The well researched Myers Briggs Type Indicator® Career Report can help to determine your best-fit career in accordance with your personality type and provides career fields and broad occupational categories for you to consider. The 10-page Career Report is ideal for clients looking to analyze career options based on their personality preferences. This report explores preferred tasks and work environments – plus the most and least popular occupations – for each personality type, and provides insights for improving job satisfaction on the job. The MBTI Career Report includes a 30 minute Q&A with a MBTI Certified Career Professional to interpret your results and answer questions. Find out more about the MBTI Career Report here.
For a more comprehensive career assessment, try SOAR™, a multi-faceted assessment that combines in-depth personality assessment, career testing and a unique inventory of your preferred work environment, learning style and life values. It’s one of the most thorough student career assessments available and results in a 90 minute professional interpretation of your results. Designed for high school students in Grades 11 and 12 or for college or university students (but also helpful for adult career changers as well), SOAR® can help you figure out your best next step. Find out more about SOAR here.
Anita Flowers is a Board Certified career and life coach at Blue Sage Career Strategies. A little different than most life coaches, Anita’s background in clinical psychology and years of experience as a counselor gives her a rich understanding of human development and family dynamics. Her work history includes 13 years working with an international business company and 12 years doing individual and family counseling as well as career counseling. This blend of counseling and business experience gives Anita a unique perspective on the world of work and life. Anita works with people literally all over the world to help them discover a life and career they love. Contact Anita here to get started on your new career and life!