How Do You Pick the "Perfect" Major?

What do you want to do when you grow up? Your undergraduate degree can build a foundation for your future career, so here's how to make an informed decision.

Senior year is a time for many important milestones. Not only is it your last year of high school, but it’s also the year you’ll begin carving out your path in life. And by this time, you may be thinking about your answer to that dreaded question: What do you want to do when you grow up?  Your undergraduate degree will build a foundation for your future career and further studies. Therefore, picking an area of study can carry a lot of pressure. Although picking a major isn’t the same as picking a career for most students—and many colleges encourage undergraduate students to explore majors for up to two years—it can be helpful to start thinking about your interests as soon as possible so your college application process is easier. Having a good idea of your desired major(s) helps when you’re picking the institutions you want to apply to or writing your admission and supplemental essays. Having a plan in mind can also ease your nerves about going off to university in general.   If you’re still looking for the “perfect” major for you (if such a thing really exists), keep the following in mind to begin your path to a great undergraduate experience.

Aptitude and attitude

Choosing a major largely depends on a combination of your interest and passion for a subject and your ability and potential to excel. These two aspects often go hand-in-hand and play a pivotal role in your performance in the area you decide to pursue. Sometimes you have to spend more time to maintain a good and consistent performance in certain subject areas. As you prepare for the next few years, spend a lot of time critically assessing your own strengths and weaknesses before you make an informed decision. Try being pragmatic and be sure to discuss your plans with your teachers, parents, and peers.

Do your research

The hardest part of applying to college is sometimes the sheer lack of information and confusion. Rumors, generalizations, and assumptions often cloud our judgement and result in us jumping to conclusions. To make an informed decision about where to go and what to study, ensure that you have the most up-to-date information on available majors and continue to ask questions and monitor university websites.

Reading a school’s course catalog and getting a better idea of the departments and course structures can help you gain a greater sense of a university’s offerings. Personally, I find it helpful to learn more about the modules and electives in the curriculum. I pay close attention to the choices available to me and the broad scope of topics covered each semester. It’s also useful to think about the perspective of the major and the learning outcomes expected. You could also think about the internship opportunities available for you to gain all the necessary hands-on work experience, as certain majors allow you to take on more roles than others.

Related: How Should I Start Exploring My College Major Options?

Can you commit?

Commitment is one of the most vital components of your college education. It’s the only attribute that sustains your hard work through those four years and helps you maintain your vigor to learn new things every day! It’s true that certain courses require more sacrifices and dedication while others aren’t as emotionally demanding. Your interest and passion for your major shouldn’t stop at your undergraduate education, because you’ll need to continue to develop skills and faculties of learning when you apply for a job or pursue a graduate degree in your field. Moreover, some majors are tied to careers that are often more academically and mentally challenging, especially given the competition that exists in the field. Majors relating to fields like engineering and medicine require you to commit mentally (and emotionally) for years.   

Think about your future plans

Even though your professional life is a few years away, it’s prudent to have somewhat of an idea of what you’d like to do before you embark on your college education. Choosing a relevant major will help you build a strong foundation for a potential career. For example, for students interested in the financial or banking sector, an undergraduate degree in Economics or Business would be beneficial. If you see yourself in a career in law or journalism, subjects like Political Science, International Relations, and English would provide good stepping stones. (But know that if you’re still not sure when you start college, many schools offer exploratory programs and career centers that can help you decide what path to pursue.)

Double majors, minors, and other opportunities

Despite the fact that the first year or so of college often includes a common curriculum for students in the same department, you should still take the time to think about the kind of degree you hope to complete. Even if you start college without declaring a major, there’s a lot to keep in mind! There are multiple ways to accelerate your undergraduate education by up to two years and even earn extra credits. For example, many universities offer double majors, concurrent and flexible degree programs, and opportunities to take minors from different faculties to make your college experience more holistic— provided you keep your performance consistent and your focus tuned to your commitments. Be sure to keep your options and mind open to new possibilities that could interest you in the present as well as the future.

Related: How to Create Your Own College Major, Step-by-Step

Overall, picking the right major for you can pave the way for a memorable college experience. Each major comes with its own challenges, but if it were really that easy, would it be as rewarding? More than anything, it’s the learning opportunities you encounter that will truly define who you are as an individual and the expertise you will garner in the future—so make it something special. 

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About Shivani Ekkanath

Shivani Ekkanath

As a person applying to college this year, I want to chronicle this crazy and unpredictable yet rewarding and fascinating journey so the experience feels less daunting for other students. I'm currently preparing to study Political Science for my undergraduate degree while trying my best to win a battle with the pressures of the IB diploma. I'm a lover of music, debating, reading about current affairs, dancing, baking (not too well), and writing. I'm also an an aspiring journalist and hope to attend Columbia University one day and work for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.


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