Picking the perfect major: Top tips for choosing a major or switching majors in college

Choosing a majorAre you having trouble choosing a major in college? Understandable. It takes years of study and thousands of dollars to complete a college degree — and that’s if you have a clear plan to follow. And many of us don’t! What happens if you can’t decide what to major in and keep switching majors? You get to take more courses, try more new things and … well, it may cost you a lot more time, money and stress. Earn yourself some peace of mind with our top tips for choosing the major that’s just right for you!

Where to start?

If you feel clueless about how to search for the perfect college major, then there’s a website for you. The University of Minnesota will walk you through a process that will help you to zero in on:

  • the things you enjoy doing
  • the things you’re good at
  • the things you believe in

Choosing a major is going to take some time and effort—it’s nothing to jump into lightly. Cassandra Hayes talked about how to choose a major in her April 2001 article for Black Enterprise titled “Choosing the Right Path.”

According to Hayes, “It’s cheaper to do your homework up front than stay in the wrong job too long or change college majors halfway through school. Having a documented and well thought out plan early on helps you discover your career-related interests and abilities.”

Know thyself

Before settling on a particular major, Gustavus Adolphus College advisors suggest that you learn all you can about your interest, abilities and values.

“You may be very interested in a major, but find that you don’t have the skills to handle the academic demands of the required courses. Conversely, you may have abilities in a particular area but do not have any real interest in studying in that area. Sometimes, you may have both interests and abilities in an area but find that the realities of the job market are such that you are not willing to risk an investment of time and money on potentially bleak employment chances,” they said.

Factors influencing choice of major

How do other students choose their majors? Jeri Mullins Beggs, John H. Bantham, et al. actually did a research study in an attempt to answer this very question. They explained their research and their conclusions in their June 2008 article for College Student Journal titled “Distinguishing the Factors Influencing College Students’ Choice of Major.”

What worried Beggs, Bantham and team was that students were being pushed to make their decisions before they really got to know themselves. For this reason, they suggested, “Given the importance of choosing a major and the difficulty in changing majors, we propose that universities consider making programmatic changes such that the choice of major could be delayed.”

Your choice of major, once made, is costly to change. Beggs and Bantham found that at their institution enrollment caps and guaranteed tuition for chosen majors made it very difficult for students to change majors—and those who do change may be required to do extra coursework.

Suggestions for choosing your major

What do members of the Princeton Review suggest you do when choosing your major? Two suggestions that make a lot of sense are to:

  • Make the most of your general ed courses — use them as an opportunity to explore new areas and challenge yourself. You may find a new interest or aptitude that you never knew you had.
  • Engage professionals in fields you find interesting — start with your professors and advisors and ask them questions so you can learn about current and future possibilities for your potential career.

Although not mentioned in the article, you may want to consider a part-time job working in your field of interest. Being on the job will put you in the company of those who are already where you want to be. You will be able to talk to them and get their advice based on years of experience.

Bottom line

Okay, what do you really need to get from college? Janis Dietz explored how choosing a college major influences the rest of your life in her June 2010 article for College Student Journal titled “The Myth That College and Major Choice Decides Johnny’s Future.”

In her article, Dietz quotes executives from major companies and found that certain skills and abilities were more important than one’s major. These include:

  • an understanding of different backgrounds, cultures, religions and perspectives
  • knowing your principles but being able to find common ground
  • the ability to solve problems and to communicate

Dietz explained, “To be hired for a leadership position, they must of course have good business skills, but that’s not enough. The differentiator is whether they are able to lead and manage people, whether they have genuine spark, drive, and enthusiasm. […] Most importantly, they also must have a sense of curiosity.”

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