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A Student’s Guide to Choosing a College Major

Written by

Harry Bennett

Date

January 12, 2018

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A student's guide to choosing a college major

At some point in your life, whether as a high school student or mid-career professional, you may consider investing in a college degree as a way to further your career prospects. For most prospective students, choosing a college major is never an easy decision. It’s one of the most exciting and stressful times of your life.

Picture the scenario. You have made the mature decision to invest in yourself and pursue a higher education with hopes of attaining a degree within the next few years. As you sit back in your chair and cross your fingers behind your head, you take a deep breath. Your mind is racing with all the possibilities presented before you. The living situation, finances, programs, friends and more blot your thoughts like a wet newspaper. Whether you are an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, or a middle-aged adult who is looking to go back to school, your next decision is pivotal to how your life will unfold over the next several decades.

Relax.

Remember that life is constantly changing and it is up to you on how you react and make the best of your situations. Your career will go through a rollercoaster of changes as you progress through life, and probably already has if you are a mid-career professional. It is highly unlikely that the first job you land after college is going to be the same one when you are ready to retire. The degree major you choose in your freshman year could very well change by the time you’re a senior. And there is nothing wrong with that. The most important thing is to trust your instinct and grind it out through the educational process. It will be well worth it once you walk across that stage with a diploma.

Keep your mind clear and all your options open. Ultimately, your path to choosing the right college major and career path will hinge on getting these three critical decisions right.  

Establish Your Passion

You’ve probably heard this phrase thousands of times. Do something you love to do and you will not have to work a day in your life. Realistically, most people would say what they love to do is lounge around the house or hang out with friends all day. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to pay the bills. Work is work and dealing with that is part of the responsibilities and maturity of being an adult. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find something you enjoy doing as part of your job.

The first step to establishing your passion is to completely forget about school all together. Pretend academics never existed. What do you truly love? What type of activities could you do every day without getting bored? Keep it simple. Maybe you are a passionate sports fan or you love helping people out or constantly find yourself creating something. Think of that one passion that stands out the most and write it down. Having a couple different passions is even better. Jot those down as well for back-ups.

The second step now involves academics. Think of your strongest subjects in school even if you date back to as early as you can remember. Were you obsessed with science in grade school? Maybe math stood out for you in high school. Maybe your strongest subject wasn’t necessarily your favorite yet you excelled at it throughout your academic career. Write down one or two areas of education that were your strong points.

Now it is time to combine the first two steps above. At this point you should have a list of your favorite things to do and a separate list of your efficient areas of study. Match up each preference and skill next to each other. The trick is to find a couple of combinations that can be attainable degrees at colleges or universities. For example, you love sports and your strongest class in school was anatomy. Sports therapy would be a strong option. You love helping others out and aced all your science classes. Nursing or working in the medical field could be a viable choice.

It is important to understand that these possible career choices relate directly to your passions and skills. If you are still having a bit of trouble coming up with a general career choice, take your list and head on over to our careers section to browse hundreds of detailed job descriptions in 21 different job categories.

Looking for career advice? Choosing a college or career is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Make sure you get all the help you need. Go to the College Mouse career directory to find a career counselor near you.

Or sign up for our upcoming Keys to Career Success course. We will walk you through the steps you need to follow as you chart your career journey – from how to narrow your career options, choose a college major and decide where to study, all the way to how to plan your job search, switch careers, and position yourself for your dream job. Click here to sign up

Choosing Your Degree

The goal here is fairly obvious. Choose a degree that correlates to what you are passionate about and one that will give you the needed skills to find work in your ideal field or profession. Wouldn’t it be great if everything in life worked out this perfectly!? If you are lucky enough to have found a degree in direct relation to your above passions then congratulations! You are in a great position to set yourself up for a career path you will hopefully love working in! So what about the others who are still up in the air?

Fear not undecided majors! According to the Educational Advisory Board, 80% of students will change their majors at least one time during their academic career. The report also suggests that the average time it takes for students who switch majors to graduate does not increase significantly. This is a huge relief to those who might change paths during their last couple years of school. Another thing to keep in mind is that many employers in the workforce would like to see that you have a degree. Just about any degree for that matter, even if it doesn’t directly relate to the job you are applying for. Obtaining a degree shows that you have the drive and determination to get through a rigid  process to achieve a goal. That is a huge benefit to have when looking to join any company. 

In any case, it is very important to keep in communication with your school’s guidance counselor.  Or if you don’t have access to one, check out the College Mouse counselor directory for a list of accredited career counselors near you. These faculty members should be your best friends while attending college as they can provide you with all the necessary help and support to complete your degree. Don’t be afraid to let them know if you want to switch majors. Career Counselors are there to guide you in the right direction with any decision you make and it is important to utilize their knowledge as much as possible.

Ask them how long it will take to graduate, what exact courses you will need to complete and what type of internships or experience you may need outside of school to land a job in that industry. Counselors have loads of useful information. Do not underestimate this free and easy tool that is on every single college campus.

Selecting a School

As if choosing a major and career path wasn’t hard enough, now it’s time to select a school. At times it can feel extremely overwhelming. The anxiety of deciding on where to go can pile up quickly given the cost, location and social life implications. Keep up that strong relationship you have established with your counselor, however, it is imperative that you also do your own research. Find out the best schools in the nation according to your major and rank them in order. Research the cost of attendance and cost of living if you are planning on leaving home. Weigh out your options financially and understand that even a degree from a small private school is just as valid as degree from a top university. Also, keep in mind the potential employment opportunities. Choosing a college located in a city or region that employs graduates in your selected major is always a good idea and will potentially make your future job search easier. For more ideas, check out our college guide, which provides detailed state-by-state profiles to help you decide where to study by matching your career goals to potential job prospects, cost of living and other factors.

Make sure you know your place on the academic scale. If you are still a bit up in the air about your major, you may want to think about attending a local community college to save money while completing general education courses. This route gives you time to fully decide on a major while saving thousands of dollars otherwise spent at high-end universities. (read article – Five good reasons to attend community college).

Scholarships and grants will be your next best friends. There is no doubt that no matter what path you take, a college degree is going to get expensive. Research all types of ways to get school paid for. There are thousands of scholarship opportunities that every student no matter their background or GPA can take advantage of. Look it up. You will be glad you did.

No matter your situation, planning out your path clearly and carefully is your best bet. Write down all possible opportunities in each of the above sections and take your time with your decision. Remember that changes are inevitable so no matter what school, major or career you choose, alternative options will always be open. Talk it through with friends, family and your counselor before you make a career choice. Most importantly, enjoy the process! It will make it that much sweeter when you land that dream job with a degree in your back pocket. Ultimately, pick a major that aligns with your strengths and interests, and whenever possible, go for a major that will give you opportunities to learn from the best professors and challenge you to work hard. This way, no matter, where you end up, you will value your the learning experience. 

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Written by:  Harry Bennett

Harry R. Bennett III is freelance journalist who took an interesting path during college. Bennett attended five different schools and switched his major before graduating with a B.A. in journalism from California State University, Northridge. He has dealt with the ins and outs of transferring, admissions, financial aid and counseling from Division I Universities, small private NAIA schools and junior colleges across the nation. As an ex-collegiate athlete, Bennett has truly experienced the college life in every way possible and knows what it takes choose a major and earn a degree.

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