There are many factors to review when choosing a college major. What does a social worker, mechanical engineer, and accountant all have in common? While this may seem like the start of a bad joke, they all actually have one important similarity. Any idea? Well, they all had to choose their respective fields when selecting a college major in order to land a job in those roles. Selecting a college major can be daunting because it is not always easy to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life. Dedicating four years to studying one subject is no easy feat, and many questions must be considered. How much can I earn after graduation? Will I need to go to graduate school? Can I see myself liking this field for the rest of my life? We are here to answer these questions and more in order to help ease the burden of choosing a college major.
Some people know what they want to do from the time they are three years old, but for most people it usually isn’t that clear. Remember when you were young and the grownups would ask what you wanted to be when you grew up? Your answer back then probably is not the same as your answer now. For example, many kids want to be doctors until they find out that it requires eight years of formal education followed by even more extensive training. Yet, others stick to their plan to become doctors because the job fulfillment is worth the sacrifice. Our dreams and ambitions become clearer as we age. We are able to use our life experiences to hone in on what brings us joy and fulfillment.
So then the question is what fulfills you?
– Do you enjoy solving existing problems or would you rather create something new?
– Do you feel confined by an office or drained when you are on the go?
– Do you prefer working directly with people or more behind the scenes?
These are just some of the questions you can contemplate to better decide how you find fulfillment. It is important that you reflect on past experiences to determine activities that fuel or drain your motivation. It is also good practice to list things that you love both inside and outside of school. This will help you establish connections between your passions and potential career options. For example, if you love travel and writing, then you would likely enjoy travel journalism. It is also beneficial to inventory your strengths and weaknesses. While having a weakness that pertains to a specific major may make it more challenging, it does not mean you should simply rule it out. For example, if you are thinking of computer engineering as a major but have no idea how to code, it may be worth taking a beginner’s coding course online to see if it is something you are truly interested in learning. There are also several tools that exist to connect your interests to college majors.
CollegeBoard offers one such tool called Roadmap to Careers and is free for any student who has taken the PSAT or SAT. Additionally, personality assessments like Myers-Brigg, Enneagram, or Disc may also facilitate self-awareness to help determine what motivates you. There is no one-size fits all for college majors, so the best course of action is to take the time to self-reflect and leverage resources to identify a major that could lead you into a fulfilling career.
Earning Potential and Employability
While money isn’t everything, it is important to plan for financial security after college graduation. It is also important to consider the employability of a potential career. Desired salary potential may not go hand in hand with all of your interests, so it is crucial to weight the importance of a high salary when choosing your path. There is a significant amount of data available concerning the salaries of specific majors on sites like Glassdoor or PayScale. Typically, math and science-based degrees like engineering and computer science come on top of the best-paying majors. Additionally, majors in education, social work, and service industries are usually on the lower end of the spectrum. However, salary data does not always tell the entire story. There is often pay variability based on career success and geographic locations. Advanced degrees can also play a factor in salary potential. For example, a Bachelor’s degree in biology will pay much less than a PhD. Salaries are not usually black and white, but doing online research and talking to friends and family can help gauge a range that you could expect to earn with a specific major.
Employability should also be considered when choosing a college major. For example, nurses and teachers will almost always be professions in high-demand due to profession shortages and societal need. Future growth also plays a factor when researching employability. For example, our world is becoming more technology-focused every day, so a job in computer engineering will most likely continue to be in high demand. It is also valuable to think about what skills you learn in a specific major and how marketable those skills are to companies. Engineering, for example, helps you learn problem solving and data analysis. Many engineers find that this skillset is highly valued even if they aren’t working in an engineering role.
Continued Education or Training
Many majors also require continued education prior to landing a job. Social workers, for example, often require Master’s degrees to be licensed by specific states. Those majoring in speech-language pathology must attend graduate school in order to become a practicing speech therapist. While graduate school isn’t a bad thing, it requires more time and financial resources. Thus, it is important to decide if that is something you are interested in pursuing while deciding on your college major.
Professional Advice and College Tours
One of the best resources for choosing a college major is located right in your high school. It is worth a trip to the guidance counselor’s office to discuss your college plans and career goals. School counselors are typically well-versed in career paths and can also help you navigate whether a particular college has a program for the major you are considering. Additionally, colleges often have career centers and advisors that can help you decide what to study. This includes everything from career assessments to one-on-ones with career experts in order to help you solidify your college major. You can start leveraging the resources on campus before you even become a student! Many colleges have public lectures, events, and guided tours. These are great opportunities to interact with faculty and find out more about academic opportunities and majors within a college of interest.
Still Can’t Decide?
So what happens if you have thought about your interests, done extensive research, talked with school advisors, and still have no idea what to study in college? We have good news: you are not alone! A lot of students go into college with undecided majors or are unsure if they want to stick with the major they chose. Either way, there are options to manage the uncertainty. First, if there is a specific field you are drawn to (engineering, science, education, etc.) but you are unsure what you would like to specialize in, you always have the option to begin working on the core requirements for that specific college. It should also be noted that there is an advantage to declaring a major even if you are unsure: scholarships. Many departments offer scholarships to entering freshman, so it is worth researching the different opportunities for each major. Even if you are only 80% sure you want to work in computer science, it would be worth declaring that major if you could receive scholarship money as a result. As we will next discuss, you can always change later if it doesn’t seem to be the right fit once you begin your classes.
So you decided on a major, began college classes, and quickly realized the field you selected is not the right match. What now? Changing majors can be complex, but it is an option if you find yourself unhappy with your original decision. However, it is important to consider the time and financial implications of changing your major. The further you are into your undergraduate studies, the more impact changing majors will have on your length of study and cost of attendance. It is important to try and decide on a major by your sophomore year to mitigate the impact of changing. Switching disciplines within the same college allows more flexibility (finance to accounting) and will minimize additional classes required. Switching colleges completely (engineering to business) will have a large impact on both cost and time as you will likely have to backtrack and take additional entry-level classes. Furthermore, if you are close to graduation and feel that you need to change majors, it would probably be better to attend graduate school rather than altering your undergraduate program. The time spent would be approximately the same, but you would end up with two degrees instead of one.
Final Thoughts on Choosing a College Major
Choosing a college major can be a challenging process full of uncertainty. However, leveraging your interests, strengths, and resources can help steer you toward the best fit. Despite the pressure you may feel when selecting a major, rest assured that it will not be the ultimate determination of your career path. There are endless opportunities with graduate degrees, training programs, and on-the-job learning. While it is important to choose your major with careful consideration, there will always be room to grow and evolve within your field. If you would like to improve your SAT or ACT score, a great place to begin is an online practice test. Register today to begin your college admissions journey with a free practice test.