Selecting a major can be an exciting but overwhelming task given the dizzying array of possibilities. Successful students look for a major that matches their interests, abilities, personality, values and income preferences. If you’re undecided, take general education classes in a wide range of subjects to discover what intrigues and motivates you. Ask other students what they like about the courses and instructors in their major. By declaring a major early in your college career, you can stay on track to timely graduation.
Consider Earning Potential
Income earning potential is an important variable to consider when contemplating majors if money matters to you. For example, if you’re strong in math and science and expect a high paying job after four years of college, you may want to major in chemical engineering. The Hamilton Project of the Brookings Research Institution found that chemical engineering majors earned an estimated $2 million over their lifetime, compared to $800,000 earned by early education majors. Other top earning majors included computer science, physics, economics and finance.
Follow Your Passion
Many students chose a major to express themselves or to pursue a burning interest in a particular subject. For instance, you may want to major in dance, drama or art if you’re gifted in those areas. Even if majors that appeal to you aren’t directly related to a specific vocation, you likely will develop transferable skills. For example, philosophy majors learn to think logically and solve complex problems, which are prized skills in many jobs. A 2013 survey of 318 employers conducted by Hart Research Associates found that 93 percent of employers are more interested in job applicants’ critical thinking skills than their college major.
Seek Expert Advice
Take advantage of campus support services to learn about yourself and identify majors that would be a good fit for you. Most campuses have a counseling center or career placement office with professionals who can guide you on your journey of self-discovery. For example, staff in the Counseling Center at the University of Washington offer the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to students as part of the career planning process. Career counselors and academic advisers can also answer your questions about prerequisites, core courses, suggested electives and internship requirements for the different majors available at your school.
Explore the World of Work
The Princeton Review -- an education company -- suggests that students undecided about a major should talk to professionals in various jobs to gain a realistic understanding of career options and recommended career paths. Learning more about occupations and training requirements can help students whittle down a list of possible majors. Similarly, students can gain insight into possible majors and related careers through volunteering and working. For example, students considering a social work major may want to work or volunteer at a group home for adolescents.
- Brookings: The Hamilton Project: Major Decisions: What Graduates Earn Over Their Lifetimes
- An Online Survey Among Employers Conducted On Behalf Of: The Association Of American Colleges And Universities Conducted by Hart Research Associates: It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success
- The Princeton Review: Choosing a Major
- Big Future by the College Board: The College Major: What It Is and How to Choose One
- Forbes: How To Choose The Right College Major
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.