Many students enter college with a pre-chosen major (though some do not). But the first major you pick is not always the one you will graduate with. In high school, there’s a lot of pressure to have your career path picked out and outlined, defined by the college and major you choose to pursue––even though some high school graduates aren’t even legal to vote yet! It’s stressful to be expected to make life-changing decisions when you’re still technically a kid but let me lend you a word of advice: Picking a college major doesn’t have to be the apex on which your entire adult life rests.
Bad reasons to choose a major
Instead of listing a billion ways to choose the perfect major for you, how about we start a bit easier? Even if you don’t know what’s right for you, you may know what’s wrong. Let’s go over some reasons why you should not choose a college major.
- It sounds cool: Maybe you think being an engineer sounds awesome, except you hate math, so it probably isn’t the best idea to pursue an Engineering major. If you have absolutely no experience in a subject area, consider doing some volunteer work to see if you really want to dedicate four years (or more) to a particular field.
- It’ll eventually make you a lot of money: Money is important, let’s be real. But the best lesson I learned was through a family friend: He's a lawyer and makes bank, but he hates every single minute of it. To be able to afford vacations and a nice house but not enjoy life because your career is so demanding, how sad is that? Don’t pick a job that makes you hate your life. It’s not worth it.
- Your parents want you to love it: You can certainly listen to your parents, but they may not know precisely what you want. Take their opinions into consideration, but remember, they aren’t the ones going to college and getting the degree.
- Your teachers tell you to: Teachers also don’t know you much outside of class. Sure, you can excel in their course, but maybe you hate it. Teachers are great sources of advice, but again, take what they suggest with a grain of salt.
- Your friends are doing it: Peer pressure can be subtle and unintended. If all your friends are going into Pre-med but you hate science, you don’t have to compare yourself to them and go into a field you’re not in love with.
- TV or movies portray it as the best: The media dramatizes all sorts of careers and lives. Suppose you’re inspired by those stories, great! But before you dive into a fantasy, get some real-life experience under your belt. From what I saw in shows, I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor. But you know what? I don’t like hospitals. I don’t like clinical atmospheres. I don’t even like biology!
- Your university has a great program for it: Maybe your college is world-renowned for its Philosophy department. That’s a great opportunity for someone who knows what philosophy is. Start with some general education courses, then decide if you want to study complex thought for the next four years.
You can’t force yourself to like your major
If you absolutely, positively end up hating every class you take in your chosen major, my educated guess is it isn’t quite right for you. No one gets an award for how well they can force themselves to persevere through something they hate. Individuals are geared toward different interests. If you hate painting, drawing, sketching, and crafting, but you push yourself through a semester of voluntary Art, well, it’s likely that while your peers might say, “Why didn’t you just drop the class?” Unless it’s a gen ed, then I suppose you sort of must push through it. But if it’s your major? Pick one you enjoy, not one you have to work twice as hard to get through.
It’s okay to switch majors after starting college! Overall, just because a major is good doesn’t mean it’s good for you. You pick a major based on who you are, and who you are at the end of high school likely won’t be who you are at the end of college. Change is good. So don’t feel behind if you don’t know exactly where you think your life is headed when you step onto campus the first day.
Going to college undecided
It’s also okay to go into college as undecided. Yes, it’s better to figure it out before your second year, but that’s where gen ed requirements come in. Get those done at the beginning of your college career while you figure out your major and what you want to do with your life in the meantime.
Majors don’t define your entire life, but they do guide your next four or so years—and those years fly by quickly! Build who you are and find a college major that doesn’t get in the way of that. Work toward success, but don’t forget that happiness impacts the type of success you’ll find.
Looking for more advice on the topic? Check out all the blogs and articles in our Majors and Academics section!