Declaring a college major is a major college milestone.
Just like finding the right school, choosing your area of study is a choice that could ultimately decide what you end up doing for the rest of your life. Your college major represents a significant investment, so you’ll want to be confident that you’re spending your college years studying a subject that’s relevant to the industry you want to work in, and that it’s something that truly interests you.
Choosing a college major can be a major decision, and it can be stressful. There’s a lot of pressure on you to find a major you’ll enjoy studying, will help you earn money and make your future self happy. It can be overwhelming to think that one decision at a young age can have such a big impact on your life, so we’ve put together some tips to help you choose a college major.
How Does Choosing Your College Major Affect Your Future?
It’s important to think beyond your undergraduate degree when you’re declaring your major. If you think there’s any chance you may have plans to return to college for a professional degree, you’ll need to plan accordingly when declaring your undergraduate major, depending on what sort of professional degree you’d like to pursue. For example, if you think you might want to go to medical school, one day, your undergraduate major will likely need to be biology, or something related. If your undergraduate degree is completely different than what you want to pursue years later, you may need to return to school just to take a specific course before you can move ahead.
Your major also helps you focus your search for jobs and your career path. But your major does not lock you into any given profession.
The U.S. Government does not keep records on the number of people who work in a field related to their college major, but here are three often-cited empirical reports that can help you understand the importance of your major to your career.
- Your major and career are not the same. In 2014, A Federal Reserve Bank of New York study found that only 27% of college graduates had a career in a field related to their major.
- Employers are more interested in your experience. In 2015, In a report called The Economic Value of College Majors, Georgetown University found that employers consider your internship and real-world experience more than they do your major when making hiring decisions.
- Many majors have no defined career path, but certain majors do. In 2019, jobs and education labor market analytics company, Emsi, released a study of some of the most popular majors to find that a majority of students experience a wide range of career outcomes. They found that some majors, such as engineering, have more predictable routes, but those who major in communications, business, or social sciences see more fluidity in their careers.
Your major will affect your future. You’ll always be learning; especially as technological innovations invite change. And you will encounter new life experiences that could change the course of your professional career. Don’t think of your major as the final product–think of it as a launchpad.
When Do You Need to Declare a Major?
Some college students will register for school and start with their basic required courses before declaring a major, and that’s perfectly fine. It could be better to go this route if you’re still undecided, but ideally, you’ll want to pick your major before you even decide what college you want to attend. If you have options for different college choices, your decision could weigh heavily on the fact that one school offers a program or major that the other schools don’t. Even as a freshman, you might get a head start on the coursework that’s needed to ultimately graduate with a degree in a specific field of study.
If a graduate program is in your future it may have undergraduate course requirements. Think about majors that will allow you to continue your education without having to take additional classes to qualify for graduate programs. For example, if you want to go to law school, it’s a good idea to take political science classes.
Be sure to investigate suggested timelines and dates for course offerings for your major so that you graduate within an appropriate amount of time. Some courses are only offered in spring or fall and missing them could hold you back from graduating on time. Some colleges even have a suggested timeline to complete the required coursework in four years. This will help you completed the necessary classes and work to graduate on time.
Learn about the financial considerations of choosing a double major.
Changing Majors May Have Financial Consequences
Changing a major – especially after several semesters – doesn’t just waste time, but it can be an expensive choice as well. College tuition is an investment, and if you took classes that no longer apply to a new major, you may have wasted your money on them.
It’s okay if you discover a new passion or circumstances change but think carefully about why you are changing majors and if that is the best path to achieve your long-term goal. If changing majors causes you to extend the time you are paying for college, then you should consider if the financial implications are worth it in the long run. Not only will you be paying for more, but you will prolong your entry into the workforce. Changing majors can be a very expensive decision to make.
How to Choose a College Major
You may not know exactly what it is you want to study when you start college, and that’s okay. Plenty of established professionals end up changing their career paths after they’ve been working in the same industry for a long time, so there isn’t necessarily a “right” time to know what it is you want to do. However, the sooner you have at least some ideas of the industry you want to work in, the better you’ll be when it comes to choosing a major.
Here are some tips to help you choose a college major:
- Take a personality test to help you pick a major. According to a 2019 report by career counseling company, The Career Key, a major that fits your personality will bring you greater success. You’ll be more likely to earn higher grades, stick with your major, and graduate on time if you find a major that matches your personality. There are online tests you can take to help you figure out which matching majors and career paths are right for you, for example, the Holland Code Career Test or College Board’s Career Finder. Some universities also have online quizzes that can point you in the right direction, such as Loyola University Chicago and Marquette University. To learn a little more about what makes you (and others) tick, there are several personality tests used by Fortune 500 companies, such as Meyers-Briggs and Enneagram. Your school advisor may offer quizzes or similar tools to help you connect your interests and strengths to majors and careers. Your advisor can also point you in the right direction in terms of which industry is most likely to hire someone with your skillset.
- Explore the job market. While you should pursue a major in something that interests you, it’s a good idea to know what the job market looks like before you commit. You may not know every job or industry out there so ask around, explore job listings, and visit career fairs to understand the playing field a little better. Look at the qualifications in job listings to get an idea of the skills needed for specific roles and see if your major supports them. What can I do with this major is a website you can use to see connections between academic studies and professional jobs.
- Think about income. While choosing a major that makes you happy and allows you to excel in your given profession should earn you a good income, it can’t hurt to start looking from the top down. When thinking about majors and industries that will make you happy, look through some of the highest paying jobs right now, and see how you can square that with your interests. If you think you may want to go to graduate school, look at the highest paying graduate degrees.
- Audit a class in your major. One way to move your decision along is to audit or sign up for a course in your potential major. By plugging into your major path early, you might get a head start on building the foundation that’s needed to ultimately graduate with a degree in a specific field of study. But you can also use the insight you gain to make an informed decision to change your major with as little consequence as possible.
- Volunteering is a great way to get real-world experience, network, and to learn about your passions and skills.
- Many students wait to intern until after they declare a major. But, if you have a good feeling about a major, getting an internship early can be a good trial run, not to mention resume builder.
- Futureproof your decision. Don’t forget to consider technological shifts that could disrupt industries down the line and look for jobs that can’t be automated
- Think of backups. It’s a big decision, so if things don’t go as well as you hoped, having a backup can make changing majors go smoothly.
Use this page to estimate the cost of college by profession.
What’s the Importance of Choosing the Right Major?
The major you pick is the foundation for your career training. Picking the wrong major and taking too long to realize it was the wrong choice for you can end up being a waste of time and money. Alternatively, while you might be happy with the major you chose and the classes you’re taking, you might eventually realize that the major you picked isn’t ideal for the career you want to pursue. According to a February 2020 survey from Bestcolleges.com. The survey found that most students would change their minds, with 61% of college graduates with a four-year degree saying they wish they had chosen a different major.
Asked why 26% said they would study something they are more passionate about while 25% said they would choose a major to get better job opportunities. This is followed by concerns with compensation (14%), desire to learn newer skills (14%), dissatisfaction with their current career (10%), and other (10%).
Depending on the type of job you want post-college, the degree you have can make all the difference, and certain industries could be firm on the type of education they’re looking for in candidates. When it comes to choosing your college major, follow your passions, do your research, and remember – while picking your major is a life-changing event, it does not necessarily tie you into one path for the rest of your life.