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How do I choose a major?

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I’m the type of person who is interested in everything. Some days I feel artsy and want to major in something related to theater or movies while other days I feel uncreative and want to major in physics. How do I decide? #college-major #major #college #undecided

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10 answers

Christopher’s Answer

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Hi Jen-

It really depends on a number of factors. If you know what your objectives are after you graduate, (for example, you want to become a doctor), you'll need to pick a very specific major early on.

If you're in a situation where you don't know what kind of career you want specifically after you graduate, you should focus on what your true interests are. If that's filmmaking and production, follow that path.

In my case, I have a degree in art, but I work in a technology company. My work is influenced by the training I received, and the classes I took in college, though I don't work in a field directly related to my degree.

I would really encourage you to consider where your passions lie, and follow that as a baseline for determining what you major in.

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Jasmine’s Answer

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Hi Jen,

While it's good to use some of your first few months of college to explore and try out different classes, keep in mind that some of the majors/career paths take advance planning and a lot of prerequisite courseworks to apply for/get in. It's always a good idea to use your spare time in the summer to read more books on career fields, do online research about career paths,... I find it useful to look up people on linkedin who are more established and see what major they were, what steps did they take to get there. Some career paths will have more travelling requirement than other, and some will pay less than others. It's good to think about what's important to you down the road. Also if you do choose one career paths, your other hobbies such as art, writing, sports, volunteer, etc do not have to take a back seat. You can still pursue them as hobbies on the side or even turn them into a small business hustle.

Last but not least, whatever you choose as your major in college does not have to be a one hard stop. Changes in career path are very typical life decisions, so don't be afraid to take a leap of faith.

Thank you for your advice! I will definitely research my majors and people who have majored in my interests and hopefully come up with a decision. Jen Z.
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Salvador’s Answer

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Hi Jen,

I was in the same boat a few years ago but the great thing about college is that the first two years most students are working on completing their general education units. It is during the last two years of college that students tend to take classes that aligned with their chosen major. I started at a community college where I took general education courses for the first two years then transferred to a 4 year university to complete a bachelor's degree in accounting. During my first year in community college I didn't know what I wanted to major in but most universities require general education units to be completed before transferring so that gave me some flexibility to take courses in subjects I was interested in. Perhaps this could be something you can look into if you need more time to decide on a major, best of luck!

Thank you for your advice! I will definitely keep that in mind. Jen Z.
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Taylor’s Answer

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Hi Jen,

Going into college undecided is okay. I went in undecided because I wasn't quite sure what direction I wanted to go. I took classes in the few different fields that I was most interested in. The classes were all very helpful in leading my into the direction I wanted to go. That really helped me see what sparked my interest the most by testing out each class and exploring my options. Ultimately it helped me decide what direction I wanted to continue you and what I found myself wanting to focus on. I would definitely recommend taking advantage of general classes at first to see what interests you the most.

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Annabel’s Answer

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Hi Jen,

I think that is a question that almost every college student struggles with. Often times, students feel they should know exactly what they want to major in when they arrive at school, but that is definitely not the case. I think the best thing to do is try a variety of different classes in your freshman and sophomore year. Your major does not necessarily have to align with the work you want to do after school so it is important to major in something that interests you. If you take a class and you find it interesting and are finding yourself wanting to explore further, that could be a good path for you to take. I was an art history major in college because I was fascinated by it after taking a Renaissance art class, and then I went on to work in the hospitality industry. I would not get too caught up in picking a major that will then determine was profession you chose, as they are often not related and that is ok. Employers are looking for a variety of interests and backgrounds when choosing candidates for jobs so it is always good to choose something that you will actually be interested in learning about.

Hope this is helpful!

Annabel recommends the following next steps:

  • Try and classes that interest you in different fields and see which ones you connect with the most
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Matt’s Answer

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Hi Jen,

I recommend trying everything out as well. But additionally, while you're in college, I would reach out to come of the advisors for the arts/physics programs that you are interested in. I think that while a major may sound appealing, it is useful to speak to the advisors and other students about the major and what sort of classes and jobs they are seeking. It is always great to hear from others, who have more experience, and can help guide you through the process.


Most of all, don't be afraid to try multiple classes before making a decision. Don't give up too early, and pursue what you think you would enjoy.

Thank you for your advice! I will definitely ask people who have or are majoring in my interests and see what they have to say! Jen Z.
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Kathy’s Answer

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Hi Jen,

I recommend evaluating your strengths first and consider what you are most passionate about. Based on your answer, look for majors that require those strengths. In your case where it varies, think about the lifestyle you want and research professions you can pursue with the types of degrees. Financial stability is more likely obtained by pursuing physics, whereas the arts may be less stable. If you align your future desire, the decision may become clear. Hobbies are a great option to continue your passion for areas that are not your major.

I started in one major (Electrical Engineering) and switched to Accounting. Both majors required a strong math foundation, and I switched at the end of my freshman year when I made my final decision.

Hope that helps! Best-

Kathy

Thank you for your advice! The problem is that while I am passionate about both, I am more passionate about the arts than physics, but physics is more financially stable. I guess it’s the follow your heart vs follow your mind issue. On one hand, I want to design for theater or animate for movies, but on the other, physics has more opportunities and a more reliable income. Jen Z.
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Vipa’s Answer

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Hi Jen, when I was trying to decide which major I wanted to major in I thought about my values and what do I value the most important and would like to continue that in the future. Financial stability was one of my most important value and that was why I decided to go into accounting. I think maybe joining clubs related to majors you are interested in will also give you more resources and insight to gain more understanding about those majors. You will also meet many professionals and make new connections who could help you provide your first job out of college.

Thank you for your advice! Financial stability is one of the reasons I’m leaning towards physics, but the other side is more for my heart. The problem with living in a small town is that there aren’t many opportunities to join clubs or job shadow based on my interested majors. Jen Z.
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Paul’s Answer

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I think your best option would be to enroll in college as undeclared to give yourself time to find what interests you the most. There's no rush to make a decision so take your time to explore courses that may be of interest to you so that when you finally do decide, you'll be confident in your decision.

Thank you for your advice! The thing I’m worried about with being undeclared when entering college is that I would not be able to start on completing my requirements freshman year, or it will hurt my chances to get scholarships or get admitted into a college. Jen Z.
I understand your concerns. I'll address them one at a time: Know that no matter what major you choose you will have core requirements that need to be met that may have some overlap across different majors. In addition, core requirements for one major could be used as an elective for a different major so you wouldn't delay completion of your degree. I'm also of the opinion that you do not need to be concerned about admission. Most schools know that many students won't decide a major until their sophomore or junior year to give them more time to find their true passion. Scholarships will always be available if you have the grades. That being said, some scholarships will be for students majoring in specific areas but don't let that deter you. Paul Gullatte
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akshata’s Answer

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Hi Jen,


1. What do you like?

The first thing to consider when picking a major is what you like to do. By the time you graduate high school you’ll have enough information and experience from your classes to figure out what you might or might not be interested in pursuing. Here are some ways you can dig deeper:

  •     List 10 things you love. Listing what you love doing, both inside or outside the classroom, is a great way to see possible paths you can take. If you enjoy art and drawing but you’re also interested in technology, consider majoring in graphic design. If you’re into business and traveling, investigate majoring in international business.
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  •     Make a list of strengths and weaknesses. Figuring out your strengths and weaknesses can help you assess what kind of major to go into. For example, if public speaking isn’t really your thing, you might want to avoid majors that could lead to careers like being a news anchor or spokesperson. You can also take your weaknesses and build on them in college. If public speaking is something you want to improve, go ahead and take a speech class. You might love it!
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  •     Use the Roadmap to Careers Connect your interests to majors and careers, and explore video interviews with professionals in different industries to hear how they got where they are today. Use your College Board login to map your future—it’s free for students who take the PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, or the SAT.
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2. What are your career goals? 

After digging into what you’re interested in and potential careers options, it’s time to think about your goals and your future career—and how easy or how hard it might be to find employment.

If you have a specific career goal in mind, you might need to pick your major or program in advance, sometimes as early as when you’re applying to college.

It’s also good to know what degree you’ll need for the field that interests you. Here’s an overview of different college degrees:

  •     Associate Degree The two-year associate of arts (AA) or associate of science (AS). Some students who earn this degree transfer to a four-year bachelor’s program; others use it to go straight to work. Community colleges, career colleges, and some four-year colleges offer associate degrees.
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  •    Bachelor’s Degree This degree requires completing a four- or five-year college program. Most students earn a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science degree (BS). You can also study toward a bachelor of fine arts or bachelor of architecture degree.
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  •    Joint Degree Students can earn a bachelor’s degree plus a graduate or professional degree in less time if they combine them. A student on this track may apply to a graduate program as an undergraduate and begin the graduate program in their fourth year of college.
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  •    Graduate Degree Graduate degrees are advanced degrees pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree. Examples are a master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS). Students generally earn a master’s degree after two years of study. A doctoral degree (for example, a PhD) requires four or more years of study.
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3. Talk to advisers and professionals

The best source of college advice is your school counselor. They’ve helped lots of students who are making the same decisions you are. Your school counselor can tell you more about college majors and program offerings. Here are five questions you might want to ask a counselor.

  1.     Are there any college fairs at this school, or nearby?
  2.     Can you put me in touch with recent grads who are going to the colleges on my wish list?
  3.     Which elective courses do you recommend?
  4.     Do you have any information to help me start exploring careers?
  5.     Do you have any college planning sessions scheduled?
  6.  

Check out BigFuture<sup>™</sup> for a list of 20 questions to ask your counselor to get the conversation started.

You can also reach out to professionals working in the field you’re interested in. They can talk to you about how they got from college to where they are now. Whether they’re your parents, guardians, family members, or people you interact with professionally, set up a time to interview them. Be prepared with a set of questions to ask.

 

4. Backups

Try to come up with one or two backup majors. This way you’ve got options if you decide to switch your major.

 

What if you can’t decide on a major?

It’s okay to enter college as an undecided major. You don’t have to know what you want to major in (or even what you want to do with the rest of your life) during your major search process. College gives you the opportunity to take classes you think you might enjoy or even classes you’ve never been exposed to before.

Volunteer and find internships. Internships and volunteer work are the best ways to get real hands-on experience in fields a major can lead to. You’ll get a great understanding of what day-to-day life in the profession is like. If you can, talk to people in different departments to see if their work interests you.

 

Events at local colleges/college visits. You can learn a lot from visiting colleges or attending events on campus. Colleges have open houses or accepted student days where department representatives answer questions and offer you their knowledge. There are also students around you can talk to about their major and class experiences in the major.

Can you change your major?

You can absolutely change your major in college. Studies find that most students change majors at least once and many students switch several times. No matter what year you’re in, sometimes the major you declare doesn’t end up being the right one. If you decide to change your major, make sure the credits you need align with your expected graduation date. Go to your counselor for guidance on picking a new major and setting up your schedule.


It’s a big decision, but you know yourself and your interests better than anyone. Remember, when choosing a major, the most important thing is to make sure you’re happy and clear about your priorities for your life and career after college.

 

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