Last Updated: Aug 17, 2020
If you’re in the lucky position of knowing exactly what you want to study in college, you can conduct your college search in a highly specific way. You can choose a university that excels in your major and/or minor areas of study. Let’s go over how you should find and choose your perfect college based on your choice of major. Once you’ve selected an awesome school, then the fun really begins! But before we begin, here’s what you should know.
You don’t have to decide your major and minor yet
It’s totally okay if you haven’t discovered your perfect major and/or minor at this point! The college journey can be a whirlwind of new experiences and expectations. And the college search can be especially stressful for student-athletes, who often wonder whether they should focus on finding a school that has a great athletics program or a great academic program for their chosen major and sport, respectively.
Some students will know exactly what kind of degree they’re looking for. We’ve all known people who knew exactly what they wanted to do for a career by freshman year of high school; but in reality, many students don't actually know and won’t end up declaring a major until the end of their sophomore year of college. In fact, many who think they know will end up changing their minds. Additionally, some students will get a degree in one thing only to end up with a career in a completely different field! So don’t pressure yourself to make a decision if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to want to do after you graduate college.
You have many options
Some careers have a wide range of different majors that’ll work for your goals. If you plan on going to law school after undergrad, for example, you might study Political Science, Business, Philosophy, Literature, Sociology, or Psychology. If you’re planning on being a molecular biologist, you still have a couple of options for your major, but you’ll have to study biology, and ultimately your major will probably need to be Molecular Biology. You’ll find that some careers have entry ramps from a variety of majors, while other careers are more linear.
Choosing a university for your major and minor
If you know what you want to study (or have a few ideas), take these steps to start finding the best schools for your desired academic programs.
Start searching online
Sites like U.S. News & World Report are leaders in college statistics with many comprehensive lists and rankings. Those rankings can make it easier to choose the perfect university for your major. When you’re starting the process, keep an open mind and use rankings and college search sites to pull a list of contenders. You can always narrow the number of schools down later after you’ve used the next criteria. You can search based on anything from majors to online colleges, and you can even narrow things down based on more specific criteria, like best graduate Nursing programs.
Start broad and be willing to consider schools you’ve never heard of too. Remember that when you’re picking a college based on a specific major, there are often schools in the top 50 that have specialized programs, plus great schools that never make it to a “top schools in the country” list.
Talk to people in your dream career
It’s great advice to look at job descriptions to build your résumé; if you’re looking at what employers are looking for, you might discover attributes, skills, and ideas to put on your résumé that you never would’ve thought of before. But you can also see what kind of majors and minors are listed in job descriptions, and you can use those to expand your search for minors. Sometimes colleges that have your major won’t have your ideal minor, so you may have to tilt in a different direction.
Talk to people in your desired field about what colleges they attended and respect. At the least, do some research online to see what college names keep popping up related to your field. You might not be able to interview an entire department from a Fortune 500 company, but you can often find message boards online, or you may have connections at smaller companies to start learning more.
Think about location
Some jobs are only available in specific locations. If you want to work in publishing, for example, some colleges will be close to your dream publishing house (which could lead to a dream internship) in places like Boston or New York, while others won’t be. Certain careers will have strong job prospects in certain cities but not others, while other careers have strong job prospects all over the country. Location may not be your deciding factor, but it can certainly help you narrow down your college list.
On the other hand, keep in mind that with growing remote work opportunities, you might be able to live on one side of the country and work on the other side. It’s no longer absolutely vital to be in Los Angeles to work for a company in Los Angeles. For some, it’s still a better option to be in the area, and many employers will want you to be local—some will even require it. But in this new world, your college decision doesn’t have to be tied down by a physical location.
One more thing about location: if you love cold or warm weather, or big or small cities, you should definitely take that into account while searching for colleges. While weather may not directly play into your major, the culture and climate of a school sets the backdrop for your education and experiences. The key is knowing yourself; if you love rocking a campus T-shirt in sunny weather, and that makes you happier and more confident, choose a school where you can do that. If the snow keeps you grounded or you enjoy winter recreation, consider attending a school in that environment.
Look through courses, syllabi, and requirements
Each college will have different regulations for credits and classes, and even majors that have the same name on paper could be completely different. So look through the list of required courses that you’ll have to take at your top choices. You may notice disparities in the programs that can sway you toward one college or another. Some schools make you take more specialized courses, while other schools allow you to take more electives and broad courses. You can also have conversations with professors or staff in your department(s) of interest to get a feel for classes and the kind of people you’d be working with. Check out research, books, and lectures that faculty have given. If they’re exciting to you now, they’ll probably keep your interest for the next four years.
Look at employment stats
Most schools and departments have statistics available about what their students do after college. Depending on your major and career track, this might include employment or further education. Look at the stats of where students go after they graduate. This will not only tell you how much the school is capable of helping you but also the culture of students you’re walking into. Your fellow students will have a huge impact on the way you think about the world and the way you’ll develop in ambition and your goals; oftentimes, the better your peers’ outcomes, the better your future options.
Related: The Top 10 Career Fields in America
It’s much easier going off to college when you feel confident about your final decision. People select colleges for a wide variety of reasons. Maybe the school is ranked highly, you want to play a sport, you grew up hearing about it or visiting it, or they have great professors you want to study with. You might end up at a school with the rowdiest college football conference or a small liberal arts school in the Midwest. Keep an open mind and talk to people in your career(s) of interest. Choosing your major is important, but it’s also freeing to know that many people begin their careers in things they didn’t study in college! It’s a big decision, but it’s far from final.