7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Major

Posted August 13, 2012

Narrowing down your college choices was hard enough. Now you have to pick what you’re going to study out of what could be hundreds of options including education degree programs, criminal justice degree programs, engineering degree programs, health degree programs, liberal arts degree programs, science degree programs, math degree programs, to name a few. They warned you college was tough! Choosing a major is important, but it doesn’t need to be as overwhelming as it first seems. First of all, keep in mind that many students change their majors during college, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be in school longer if you switch early and work hard. Second, you can start thinking in the right direction by asking yourself these questions. They’ll help you think of the short- and long-term benefits of potential majors and hopefully lead you toward the right major for you.

  1. What am I good at?

    Yes, you’ve always dreamed of being a doctor or the president, but if you’re terrible at biology or fail your history classes, you’ll probably be better off choosing a different career path. Think of the subjects you’ve excelled in at school. That’s an easy way to tell where your skill set lies if your grades are much higher in one subject than in others. But if you do equally well in every course, the job might be a little tougher. Look at your skills that don’t relate to academics. Are you a good leader? Good at working on teams? Good at problem-solving? Every little skill you have can push you toward a good major.

  2. Do the courses sound interesting overall?

    It doesn’t matter how smart you are in a subject. If you hate the classes and material, you’re not going to excel (and you’ll probably dislike your job later). Take a look at the course work required in a major you’re considering. Sure, the basics and some difficult classes might not sound fun, but do the classes overall interest you? Are you excited reading about them and the things you might learn, or are your eyes already glazing over? Getting a degree is hard work; getting a degree in something you don’t enjoy can be torture. Do yourself a favor and choose a field you’re genuinely interested in. Chances are you’ll do better when you like what you’re studying. If you have the chance, sit in on a class in your potential major. You’ll get a feel for that field of study and college in general.

  3. What careers can this lead to?

    As much as you want to just choose a major that you’ll love, your college degree is going to lead you down a career path. That’s right; you’re going to have to get a job (or get another degree to get a job) after you graduate, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when choosing a major. Some majors have fairly direct career paths (accounting or human resource management, for example), while others can lead you in any number of directions. If you want to be an academic — a professor or a researcher — you can choose just about any major you like but will have to complete post-grad degrees. If you want a job right out of undergrad, choose a major that lends itself to an entry-level position and career path you could see yourself doing for at least a decade.

  4. What’s my biggest career priority?

    Money is great. We can’t deny it. It pays for your mortgage, your car, your closet of shoes, and everything else. The question is, is it the most important thing for you? If you’re most interested in making six figures in your lifetime and achieving national fame, it’s likely that a degree in journalism or philosophy isn’t going to satisfy your career goals. Or maybe you value flexibility, a normal 40-hour workweek, and helping others. You may not want the job in finance or a law firm that requires you to work around the clock for years. Consider these priorities now so you won’t wake up 10 years from now in a job that doesn’t satisfy you.

  5. Does my college have a strong program?

    If you’ve already committed to a school, its strengths and weaknesses could help you narrow down the choices for your major decision. Not only are you likely to learn more from a well-established and well-known program, you’ll also have better access to top internships, grad schools, and, potentially, jobs once you graduate. If your university is known for a particular major, that program will probably get more funding and more notable professors than a department that no one’s heard of. Your school’s reputation in your area of study could end up being just as important as the degree itself when you’re on your first job hunt.

  6. Have I talked to someone in this major?

    The best way to understand what you’ll be dealing with for the next four years is to talk to someone who is going through it right now. A current student studying your potential major will be able to honestly tell you what’s great about the program and what’s not. Pick their brain on classes, professors, internship opportunities, studying, and any questions you have. Talking to a professor in your major will also be helpful to see how you fit in, but won’t give you the same perspective as talking to someone who could potentially be your peer.

  7. Is this what I want or what someone else wants?

    You should be honest with yourself when deciding how you could spend the rest of your life. Are you making a decision based on what’s going to make you happy or what’s going to make your parents happy? Are choosing a major because your friends think it sounds cool? While you should definitely gather advice from the people who know you best and adults who understand the demands of the real world, the ultimate decision should be yours. You’re the one who’s going to have to study the subject for years and then follow a career path in the field. If your parents are paying for your school, you should strongly consider their suggestions, but if they’re the opposite of what you want, explain clearly, calmly, and convincingly why you’re going to major in something else. There are hundreds of career paths that can lead to success; you don’t have to go to business or med school.

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