Originally Posted: Jun 13, 2013
Last Updated: Jan 28, 2016
“So, what are you going to major in?” It’s probably one of the most frequently asked questions an incoming college freshman hears. There is a lot of pressure out there to have your whole career plan figured out ahead of time, and it all starts with choosing a major. You may have some vague ideas of fields and industries you’d like to enter or could easily see yourself in, but how much can a recent high school graduate really know about what career path they should follow? Although making this initial decision can feel a bit challenging, it can also be fun and help you learn a little more about yourself.
Follow these four steps for further guidance in choosing your major:
Think about what you like
Choosing a college major represents an intellectual investment. You will be spending the next few years focusing intensely on whatever you choose, but years can feel like millennia if you’ve chosen a major you’re only lukewarm about. Use those required distributional courses to your advantage—did you like that science lab you had to take? How about European history with that great professor? After each class you take, ask yourself, “Would I like to expand on this?” Take advantage of elective courses and on-campus lectures. Go to talks that sound interesting, chat with upperclassmen about their majors, and compile a list of a few majors you want to know more about.
Consult people already in those fields
Now that you have your list of potential majors, see if you can track down any family, friends, or close acquaintances that work in one of those areas. Ask if you can shadow them for a day, or just sit down and have an informational interview with them about what exactly it is that they do. This is not only a great and productive way to kill some free time this summer, but a sure-fire way to get a true insider’s look at what the future of this major entails. Summer is also a fantastic and popular time for internships, so see if you can land one; there are many different opportunities out there and it may not be too late!
After checking out a few more classes, have you found yourself in love with both philosophy and biology? Never fear. Double-majors, major-and-minor, major-and-double-minor, major-and-concentration, and a whole host of other combinations exist. If you’re stuck, think about the degree of involvement you’d like in each area of interest. Do you like some topics in biology but don’t like some of the major’s requirements? Maybe you’re more suited to a minor if you have a greater interest in another subject area. Or do you like two subjects equally and feel that you can handle a heavy course load? Explore a double major. In considering combinations, remember that it is sometimes difficult logistically to study certain subjects with others because of the time commitment required of one subject. This is especially true in career-oriented majors like nursing. In cases like these, you will have to consider what you may want to do 10 or 20 years after graduating from college.
Explore career options and graduate education opportunities
Unfortunately, college does end, and you will have to decide how to proceed with whatever major you’ve chosen. If you have a certain “end”—a job, a graduate program—in mind, you may want to consider how you want to get there when you choose your major. Some students opt for an expedited pathway, graduating with a degree in engineering, nursing, or another occupation-oriented field that makes them qualified to fill a specific role upon entering the “real world.” Others opt for a longer way around, pursuing a degree like psychology that either requires a graduate-level degree to practice or, given the foundational/general nature of its course work, allows them to pursue any number of fields. In choosing a major, you should try to fill in the blank: “After graduation, I might want to ____.”
Above all, remember that college is a time for exploration and self-discovery, and that at 18 years old, you don’t need to know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life. Take the time to explore your interests, enroll in classes in new subjects, attend lectures, and shadow professionals in fields in which you are interested. Then you can fill out the paperwork to declare your major with greater confidence.