What should I major in and does it matter?

When picking a major, it helps to see what job options will be available after graduation.

When picking a major, it helps to see what job options will be available after graduation.

You picked a college, got in and thought the hard decisions were behind you. But there is still that little wrinkle of picking a college major. You know … that decision that will determine the entire course of the rest of your life—what your career is, how you live, who you marry? Okay, some of that may be exaggeration, maybe even all of it. So if you haven’t already answered the question—what should I major in?—there is no time like the present. Once you have an answer, then you can decide—does it matter?

What is a college major?

Just to make sure we’re on the same page, let’s talk a little bit about what a major is. The College Board’s Big Future site offers up an answer in their post “The College Major: What It Is and How to Choose One:” “A major is a specific subject area that students specialize in. Typically, between one-third and one-half of the courses you’ll take in college will be in your major or related to it.”

When do you want to decide on this specific subject area? Most colleges, and most majors, give you until the end of your sophomore year to nail down the rest of your life (no pressure!). The idea is to use the first two years to sample different subjects and see what intrigues you.

Tips for picking a major

Now that you have an idea of what you are doing when deciding what you should major in, here are some tips for helping you come to that decision courtesy of “5 Ways to Pick the Right College Major” by Brian Burnsed for U.S. News & World Report from September 19, 2011.

  1. Don’t decide until you get to college. Burnsed writes, “Students should give themselves ample time to try a diverse set of classes in their first year or two of school before deciding what field of study most appeals to them.”
  2. But don’t take forever to choose. Sure you want to give yourself some time, but college is expensive, so don’t put the decision off forever.
  3. Be curious. Ask around at your college before you commit to a major—any help you can get, from the departments or career services, will make your decision easier.
  4. Be passionate about your choice. Odds are there is something that really appeals to you. Following the path that takes you on a path, even if you don’t know what career that path is leading you to, is okay.
  5. Know the exceptions to #1 through 4. Certain careers, such as doctors, nurses, physical therapists and engineers require certain skills and the sooner you start gaining those in college, the better. 

Does it matter?

You are circling in on your major, but you can’t help asking yourself if it matters what you choose. And the answer may be no. Jeffrey J. Selingo asked and answered this same question on April 29, 2013, in a post for The New York Times’s The Choice blog “Does the College Major Matter? Not Really.” His answer? “Employers say that future workplaces need degree holders who can come up with novel solutions to problems and better sort through information to filter out the most critical pieces.”

So hiring managers want people who know how to think and think creatively, while cutting through all the unnecessary information.  To accomplish this, Selingo recommends college students be open to taking risks, to being creative and, yes, ultimately to failing. “Many academics believe students have lost the ability to be creative — to learn through doing, to learn through failing, to learn through just having fun.”

All too often college is viewed as something that has to be gotten through, even endured, for real life to begin. But as the author Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”

Have you known what your college major would be since birth? Or do you have no idea what you want to focus on? If you have made a decision, share how you came to it in the comments below.

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