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The Who, What, How, and Why of Choosing a College Major

There's no special formula to choosing a major, but it helps to start by asking yourself a few questions--including who, what, how, and why.

I think I would be hard-pressed to identify someone who was never asked what they wanted to be when they grow up. Perhaps the question is not as intimidating at seven years old as it is when you are on the verge of graduating from high school—when it changes to, “What are you majoring in?” Some of us are lucky; we walk across the stage at our high school graduation with our heads held high, finding comfort in the knowledge that we know what we want to study and what path we want our lives to take. For others it is not that easy. But no one said it should be.

You are about to face (or are already facing) one of the biggest milestones in your academic career: choosing a major. It will determine the avenue you pursue in higher education and further specialize your skills in a specific area. Ultimately, it helps shape (although does not necessarily determine) your career path. With some universities often offering hundreds of majors and concentrations, how do you choose?

I will be upfront in saying that there is no special formula (trust me, I tried to find it). That is not to say, however, there are not some guidelines to help you along the way. On my own journey toward choosing a major, I found myself asking:

  1. Who/what do I want to help?
  2. How do I want to help?
  3. Why?

Without these questions, I found myself giving artificial answers and reasons why I wanted to major in Physics. But those questions kept me honest and helped illustrate to others (and myself) what I was truly passionate about. I fully recognize that these questions are not exhaustive and do not cover every possible major and career path, but it is a start.

I will demonstrate their use by using my own decision-making as an example.

  1. I want to help the environment and educate people about the environment. 
  2. I want to help the environment by educating future stewards of the Earth and by assisting the efforts to generate methods of efficient energy sources not dependent on fossil fuels.
  3. For as long as humans live on Earth, we will need people to study it to ensure that we can pass down the Earth we inherit to the next generation.

I used this thought process to conclude that I wanted to major in Geology and pursue a career in the geosciences. I had previously wanted to be a physicist, but for the wrong reasons: I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was intelligent and capable and nothing more. I would have hated being a physicist, and there is no amount of money that will make you enjoy doing a job you hate.

So my final advice to you: make sure you are pursuing a major and career for the right reasons—because you want to make an impact and you want to contribute in some way. 

Related: How to Choose Your Major (or Not)

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About Michael Tyler Kee

Tyler attends the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he majors in Geology and minors in Physics. An award-winning scientific writer and researcher, Tyler has experience both as a transfer student and as a student studying abroad. Besides his passion for writing and scientific inquiry, Michael enjoys traveling, hiking, swimming, and spending time with his family and friends. You can follow him on Twitter @TyTheScienceGuy.

 

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