As you’re reaching the end of your high school career, you are likely thinking of what you want to do next. You may know which colleges you would like to apply to, but do you know what you will do when it comes to choosing a major? This is an important decision, so it’s essential to take your time and do your research before deciding. It’s also essential to remember that you can always change your major, and the major you choose will not necessarily limit you to one specific career path in your future.
In this post, we go over some important questions to ask yourself when choosing a college major and provide a few tips to help if you’re struggling with making a decision.
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a College Major
1. First, figure out your priorities
Start by thinking about your priorities regarding your career path and financial future. Do you want to pursue a career that you are more likely to enjoy, even if it might not offer the best salary or work environment? Or do you think financial security and a more secure work environment are higher priorities? Your decision can help you narrow down options when choosing a major.
2. What are your passions and interests?
Think about what you enjoy doing—both in school and during your free time. Consider your favorite school subjects as well as possible career paths associated with them. For example, if you’ve always enjoyed English class, you may be interested in a major involving writing that could lead to a literary-related career path.
It’s also helpful to think about your hobbies and passions outside of school. Crafts, online hobbies, and other non-school activities that you enjoy can help inspire you when choosing a major for college. High school is a great time to discover yourself—what activities make you happy? Following a career path that incorporates your passions and interests is a great way to ensure you end up in a field that you enjoy.
3. How might you turn your skills and talents into a career?
Along with your interests, it is also good to consider your skills and talents. There are some topics you may be passionate about that don’t necessarily lead to potential careers. In these cases, you may be able to use your skills and talents to pursue a career that relates to the topic you love or gives you the same feeling of enjoyment.
4. What DON’T you like?
Sometimes, it’s easier to determine what you don’t like rather than what you do (which then helps you determine what you do like). What are your least favorite school subjects? If you don’t like math class, you probably won’t want to pursue a career involving math. If you don’t like spending long periods of time sitting at a desk, you probably won’t want to pursue a nine-to-five office job.
5. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Some characteristics and abilities will be best suited for specific career paths, so it’s important to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Are you great at talking to new people? This could be a useful skill for a future in sales or business. Do you enjoy keeping things organized? This could lead to a future in event planning. Determine your strengths and weaknesses by thinking about your performance at school as well as any work experience you may already have.
6. Research the earning potential for various career paths
Even if you prioritize job enjoyment over financial security, it’s still a good idea to research earning potential for various career paths that interest you. You’ll want to have at least a basic idea of what type of salary to expect from your future career, as this will impact everything from where you live to when and how you start a family—if that is something you want in your future. You can use the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to research earning potential for various career paths.
7. Consider whether a bachelor’s degree is sufficient
Some career paths will only require a bachelor’s degree, while others will require further education. Think about how much time you want to spend in school when choosing a major. Are you willing to go to graduate school, medical school, law school, or another type of training program to pursue your desired career?
Careers that require more education often have higher earning potential, but it’s important to think about whether that pay will be enough to accommodate the cost you’ll need to pay for this additional education.
8. Evaluate the rigorousness of the expected coursework
Not all majors will require the same amount of work. Some majors have much more rigorous coursework than others, which is important to consider when choosing a major in college. For example, the National Survey of Student Engagement at Indiana University shows that physics students spend around six hours more studying each week than sociology students, which totals more than 800 hours over the course of four years.
9. Consider job shadowing, internships, and volunteer positions
You can work with a college counseling service to learn about opportunities for job shadowing, internships, and volunteer positions that are available while you’re still in high school. These can provide real-life experiences that will give you an idea of what certain careers will be like after college graduation.
10. What’s your ideal work environment?
Different careers have different work environments, so you should try to visualize your ideal work environment when choosing a major. Do you want a career that will have you working with others regularly, or do you prefer to work on your own?
Do you want a structured routine, or do you want an environment that provides you with more flexibility? You should also think about the physical environment you prefer—such as whether you want to work outdoors or if you want a career where you’ll be working at a desk for most of the day.
11. Consider how adaptable various majors are
You’ll also want to consider adaptability and how important that is to you when choosing your college major. Some majors can prepare you for a variety of potential careers, letting you work in a range of fields and industries, while others will provide you with skills and knowledge that apply to one specific field or industry. Some career paths will let you live almost anywhere and find a job, while others may require you to stay in a more specific geographic location.
12. Should you double major or minor?
If you want to pursue multiple education paths in college, you can choose to double major or minor. This can help you gain skills that complement one another to improve your chances of entering your desired career path after graduation, but double majoring or minoring will take a lot more of your time.
13. Should you design your own major?
Feeling like you can’t find a major that is right for you? Or maybe there is an up-and-coming field of study that you’d like to plan your education around, but there are no majors available for it yet. Some colleges, like Swarthmore College and the University of Washington, have an option for students who want to design their own major. Ideally, this option is best for students who are intellectually curious and want to pursue a specialized path that is outside of other major options available at a particular college.
To pursue this path, students formally apply for this type of major, and it’s always a good idea to have another major option to fall back on in case the application is denied. Also keep in mind that this unique approach to an undergraduate education is not for everyone. Our best advice is to only choose this path if your career plan is truly unique and you’re dedicated and disciplined enough to pursue it with limited guidance from faculty members.
14. Browse college catalogs and see what catches your eye
A lot of students know that a particular college is a good fit for them, even if they don’t have any idea what they will choose for a major. If that sounds like you, research the college(s) that interests you and browse the catalogs to see which majors sound appealing.
You can also visit colleges to learn more about certain degree programs and attend any program-specific information sessions that are available. You may even find that you have one major in mind if you are accepted into a certain college and another major in mind if you are accepted into a different college—which is perfectly fine!
15. Relax! It’s possible to change your major.
Are you worried you might make the wrong decision? Don’t be! There is no wrong decision because it’s possible to change your major during your time in college. You can also start your college career without declaring a major right away. But keep in mind that colleges may offer scholarships for certain majors, so you may miss out on scholarship opportunities by not declaring a major before starting college.
16. Understand that your major won’t limit you to one career path
Choosing a major won’t necessarily limit you to one career path. Of course, there are some majors—such as nursing or engineering—that prepare students for very specific future careers. But there are many fields where it’s possible to change careers after gaining enough experience, so don’t worry about being too limited by your choice.
Is it better to apply undecided or with a major?
The answer is different for every student. Colleges may offer scholarships for certain majors, so declaring one before you apply can present opportunities that might not otherwise be available. However, starting college without a major gives you time to explore different classes and see which majors might appeal to you as you continue to pursue an education.
How long can you go without declaring a major?
Every college will have its own guidelines for when students must declare a major. Some colleges encourage students to declare a major by the end of their second year, while some colleges allow students to change their majors as many times as they want. Speak to a college advisor for guidance, as you don’t want to end up wasting time and money by taking too long to make a decision. (Settling on a major too late in your college years—or changing majors too often—may mean taking longer to graduate.)
Does my major matter for grad school?
Not necessarily. Many students enter graduate school to further their education in their chosen field, while others enter graduate school to pursue a different career path altogether. Your undergraduate major will not prevent you from studying a different field in grad school, though you may need to take some prerequisite courses before starting your degree program.
How do you know if a major isn’t right for you?
College will be challenging at times, even if you choose a major that truly interests you. But how can you tell if you’re just going through a rough patch or if your chosen major isn’t right for you? If you are having a hard time keeping up with coursework, it could mean you are not interested in the material or your strengths don’t align with the field. Talking to your college advisor can help you determine if your current major isn’t the right choice for you.
Need help deciding on a college major?
If you’re still unsure of which major to choose, KD College Prep can help! Our new aptitude assessment is ideal for helping students start thinking about career options as early as middle school. The assessment includes a follow-up interpretation and guidance session to provide students with insight that can help them choose high school courses, which colleges to apply to, which extracurriculars to add to their schedules, and more. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about our college counseling programs.