7 Things to Know about Choosing a College Major

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Choosing a college major can be difficult. Some students have known what they wanted to be since they were young children and others truly have no idea. The U.S. Department of Education reports that approximately 30% of students switch majors at least once. More strikingly, a survey by BestColleges and YouGov found that 61% of college graduates would change their undergraduate major if they could go back to school.

So, why are majors important? Well, they not only determine what degree students will graduate with, but also the career they will likely be most qualified for upon graduation. Since deciding on a major can often be an overwhelming process, now might be a good time to get started – given that students have more time on their hands due to the stay-at-home orders. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a major: 

  1. Think about subjects you love – What excites your student? By the time they graduate from high school, they should have enough information and experience from their classes to help them figure out their interests. If students love what they are studying, they are much more likely to be disciplined, as well as fully engaged in their classes and overall college experience. This often leads to great grades and relationships with others in their field.  They can begin by making a list of what they love to do, both inside and outside the classroom, or by assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Encourage them to utilize the resources on the College Board to help them map out their future – it’s free to students who take the PSAT and/or SAT exams. 
  2. Research the college(s) – It’s important to think about colleges when selecting a major. Students who want to pursue a specific major should consider how that subject is taught at their schools of choice. For example, does the school even offer the major of interest? If so, does the college have a good record of graduates going on to successful careers in that field? Also, when thinking about their desired career and major, research if there are specific regions that are hubs of that profession. For example, students who want to pursue a career in politics often spend time in our nation’s capital or in New York. Students might want to think about applying to schools that are near the location they will likely be working in, as this can help in landing internship opportunities, which could further lead to offers of employment after graduation. 
  3. Consider declaring a major on college applications – Declaring a major when applying to colleges can help admissions officers gain a better understanding of the student and how he or she may contribute to the incoming class. However, if the student doesn’t know what he or she wants to do, they may want to choose a subject of great interest. If that’s not an option, don’t worry. Many schools don’t require students to declare a major until their sophomore or junior year. So, students don’t have to know that they want to major in during the major search process. Afterall, that’s what college is for – to give students the opportunity to take classes and explore subjects that they might enjoy or even subjects that they’ve never been exposed to or thought of as a possible career path. 
  4. Career preparation – Experts say that the best sources for gaining a better understanding of jobs in certain majors is to speak with high school counselors and professionals working in their field of interest. Counselors can tell students more about college majors and program offerings, while industry professionals can share how they got from college to where they are now. Students should schedule a time to meet or interview them and be prepared with a set of questions to ask. For example, students can ask counselors if they can put them in touch with recent graduates who are going to the colleges on their wish list. For professionals in the field, a sample question could be “Why did you chose this occupation?”
  5. Earning potential – Knowing one’s future earning potential can be valuable information for a student. It is undeniable that some careers make more money than others. For example, generally speaking, majors in STEM, statistics, or economics tend to offer higher salaries than other majors. Students who have an idea of what they may earn after graduation can get a head start on budgeting for student loan payments or graduate school. While having a great salary is important, it is also important to keep in mind that happiness is just as important. Choosing a career solely based on a high earning potential, could result in depressed feelings or unhappiness in that profession. PayScale is a useful site that helps students calculate expected annual salaries based on their major and career path after graduation. 
  6. Pair with a useful minor – First off, let’s define a minor. A minor is similar to a major – it’s an area of academic focus or concentration, with one difference: it does not require as many classes. It’s a secondary academic discipline that may complement or support the major. For example, business majors might minor in marketing. A minor may also be very different from the major, perhaps an area that the student enjoys but may not necessarily pursue as a career. For example, a psychology major may minor in theater because they truly enjoy acting. In short, it’s another avenue to learn useful skills that could potentially prepare students to work in more than one industry. 
  7. Know that you can change your mind – As mentioned, studies have found that students change their major at least once and many switch several times. Students can enter college with one major in mind and as their knowledge expands, discover a new area of interest. However, it’s important to note that a) the earlier the decision to change the major is made, the better and b) when changing the major, make sure the credits are aligned with the expected graduation date. Otherwise, changing majors may mean it will take longer to graduate. It’s also important to note that the major one chooses does not necessarily predict nor guarantee their  future. Many graduates find jobs that have nothing to do with what they majored in while in college. 

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