What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question most of us have been asked as children. At the time, we didn’t typically give much thought to our responses. However, as high schoolers preparing for college, this question can be quite daunting. Some teenagers have a clear vision of their future, but the majority struggle to pick a major or field of interest. In fact, at least 80% of college students change their major throughout their college education. To avoid uncertainties regarding prospective majors, here are some ways to start exploring your major interests as a high school underclassman.
Begin with self-reflection
To find what you’d like to spend your future doing, start by reflecting on your values, abilities, and general interests. What school subjects do you enjoy? What do you love doing in your free time? What are your personality traits? Do you prefer working with your hands, data, objects, people, or ideas? Learn about yourself and spark interest in major options by joining new school clubs, volunteering, pursuing hobbies, or even taking college courses to get an idea of what actually learning in that field would be like.
Do your research
Once you’ve determined your strengths, weaknesses, and interests, start searching for majors and career paths that align with your traits. If you love animals, majors such as Zoology, Biology, or Life Science could lead to career options like wildlife biologist, veterinarian, animal nutritionist, animal care specialist, or marine mammal trainer. If you need help starting your research, there are numerous online quizzes provided by universities that can narrow down your options, such as Loyola University Chicago’s Major Quiz. Your research process should include (but not be limited to) gaining an in-depth understanding of the major, which employers hire within the major, and finding schools that provide the major. To ensure you choose your college major wisely, research the wages and labor statistics of potential jobs, prerequisites for applying, and daily activities you might experience in that field.
Once you’ve identified major and career options you’re interested in, try to gain professional experience in the respective fields if you can. Internships are supervised positions that allow you to gain work experience. If you’re interested in lab research, you could shadow under a college professor in their lab and learn about laboratory processes, document observations, and help analyze results. Internships are a great approach to gain a deeper understanding of a job compared to just reading job descriptions.
Ask for help
There are many people who can help in your search! You can reach out to people via email, online forums, or in-person chats to learn more about what they do in your preferred field. You could also connect directly with workers found through family or friends. In addition, some schools provide business coordinators to get students in contact with employers, and your school counselor may also prove to be indispensable in your search. They can recommend and help you plan academic courses that are suited for your goals, offer a wide range of resources such as career programs and internship opportunities, and help you reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Don’t be afraid to talk to your counselor—after all, they’re at your school to assist students like you.
If you practice self-reflection, conduct research, gain experience, and ask for help to alleviate the stress, you’ll be well on your way to deciding on a college major. Nonetheless, if you continue to struggle with choosing a major, don’t be discouraged. It’s perfectly okay to change your major in college, but keep in mind that you may face obstacles if you decide to switch. In addition, many colleges offer a General Studies or Undecided program for new students without an intended major. You know your interests better than anyone, and you will find a path that makes you happy and helps you achieve the goals you set for yourself.
If you’re curious about what would happen if you do switch academic paths, read our article Changing Majors: It's Not the End of the World to give you a better idea.