Picking your major: It’s not the end of the world

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As we roll into August, I wanted to address a question a lot of my student mentees ask me as they get ready to start their first year of college: “What am I going to major in?” In the midst of starting a new chapter of your life, it can be difficult deciding on a subject that could potentially define your future lifestyle. Take a deep breath and relax. While discovering your major is a big deal, it isn’t the end all be all for your life. Here are some tips to get you started.

Find YOUR passion

You have probably heard this one before, but it’s the most important tip for major selection. I think the toughest part of deciding on a major is identifying and accepting what your passion is. It is so easy to just do what everyone else is doing, or what makes the most money. A common mistake students make is picking a major that their parents want them to pick. In the Baldwin Wallace University’s Top 10 Mistakes in Choosing a Major 2009 brochure, choosing a major to please someone else is in their top 5. Unless it’s something you are interested in, don’t do it—plain and simple.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

The wonderful thing about college is that you don’t have to major in subjects in order to learn about them. Ed Love, the marketing dean at WWU says, “Finding the place where two things that excite you intersect can lead to a very successful career.  Now that having a bachelor’s degree has become a requirement for most jobs, it’s best to study other subjects to create an arsenal of knowledge in multiple areas, this can be an important key to differentiating yourself to future employers. Don’t expect one major to get you your dream job right off the bat—diversify yourself.” Get a communication minor; learn a new language, double major in business if that interests you. Always be sure to have a secondary skill other than your main major in order to help you get your foot in the door at a variety of businesses. I was able to get an internship with a competitive company because I knew how to code along with my marketing degree. Being a jack of many trades makes you valuable to potential employers.


Most universities have introductory courses that are made not only for you to complete GUR credits, but also to help you explore different subjects, and see which appeals to you the most. Western Washington University recommends FIGS to incoming freshman. FIGS, First year interest groups, are a bundle of different classes that are taken together with a small group of freshmen. It’s a great way to discover your interests and find people who share them. Think of it as getting preset friends right at the beginning of freshman year.

Be a job ninja

Job shadowing is another great way to explore different majors. I find that going out there and talking to people who are doing what you are interested in is the BEST way to figure out what you want to major in. In a Jan 2013 post from Edweek.org, Caralee Adams said, “Job shadowing and internships can help students figure out what they want to do with their lives — or, perhaps, what they don’t want to do.” I shadowed a pharmacy once because I thought I wanted to be a pharmacist; needless to say, I figured out very quickly I wasn’t destined for a career in medicine. But that’s another story for a different time. This is a great way to make contacts also; you never know if a place you shadow may be hiring in the future. Ask your school counselor or be ambitious and write to local businesses about shadowing.

You aren’t locked in for life

Finally, don’t think that because you have declared your major that you are stuck in it for life. I know people who have changed their major 4 times, and even then ended up in a career doing something else entirely. It goes back to passion: find something you are interested in. If that involves changing your major a couple times, it’s not the end of the world.

Thoughts for the incoming freshman who have yet to live through the MAJOR decision? Leave your comments below!

Lizzi Jackson is a senior studying Marketing and Management Information Systems at Western Washington University. She is a firm believer in expanding knowledge beyond her declared major; in addition to her majors, she is getting a certification in web development, is active in community theatre, and has been a high school mentor for 2 years.

To vote for this post to win the Be The Brainiac contest by CengageBrain, type “Vote!” in the comments below. Visitors may vote once per day through Friday August 9th. Best of luck, Elisabeth!

34 replies
  1. Donald Miller says:

    There are small percentage of people that actually enjoy their careers.
    These tips will affect whether you are happy with your chosen profession.
    Someone who is happy will succeed before someone who is not happy with their chosen profession.


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