How to Choose a Major

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A major is the subject area one studies to earn a college degree. With the high cost of college tuition, it is imperative to choose one wisely. Some students enter college with the occupation they want to pursue in mind and choose a major based on that career objective. Others don't have a clear career path and study a subject that will give them the skills they need to pursue a variety of occupations or obtain the foundation they need to get a graduate degree.

Choosing a Major Based on Your Career Objective

An occupation may require a degree in a specific major. For example, to become an accountant, one has to major in accounting and to become a physical therapist, one's major would have to be physical therapy. These areas of study teach skills that are essential to performing the job.

For other occupations, students have a bit more leeway in what they can study, but there are still limitations. To be an actuary, for instance, one can major in mathematics, actuarial science, business, or statistics. Aspiring conservationists also have a variety of choices, including biology, agronomy, agricultural science, or rangeland management.

What to Do When a Major Isn't Specified

A college degree is required or preferred for some careers, but what you study is entirely up to you. Students who know they don't have to choose a specific major can choose one based on their interests. They can also pick a major that will give them the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of occupations.

Students who enter college without a concrete career plan should pick a major that prepares them for a variety of occupations or graduate school. By taking general education courses during the first years of college, students can easily change majors if they choose a major that requires a specific area of study.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing Your Major

Asking yourself the following questions before making a choice can save you a lot of time, trouble, and money:

Are you interested in this area of study?

If you are thinking about a particular major because it is a requirement for your career path, it is hopefully something that interests you. If it doesn't, it might be prudent to either reconsider your occupation or find out if there are alternative areas of study that interest you more. It will be nearly impossible to do well in school while studying something that bores you.

Can you succeed in this major?

The area of study you are thinking about may seem extremely interesting, but ask yourself if earning a degree in it is feasible? Do you have the ability to get good grades, or will it be a constant struggle? There will also be required courses outside your major. For instance, to earn a business degree with a major in marketing, you will also have to take accounting, economics, and statistics classes. Can you do well in them?

Don't Choose to Major In a Subject That Is Beyond Your Abilities

Most people can't succeed in every area. For example, if you aren't good in math, it's a bad idea to major in that area or anything that involves numbers like statistics.

Will it prepare you for the career you're interested in pursuing?

Let's say you have determined that not only do you have a great interest in a particular major but also an aptitude—or natural talent—for it. It seems like the right choice for you but will it lead to being able to go after your chosen career? Even with occupations that don't specify a major, try to choose something that will increase your chances of finding employment after graduation. Do some research to learn what degrees people who work in your desired field have.

Will this major prepare you for a variety of careers?

Some individuals choose majors just because they are interested in what they will be studying. It is especially common with liberal arts subjects. There's nothing wrong with that, and it is in keeping with the spirit of what education should be about. That doesn't mean, however, that you should hastily pick something and leave your future up to chance. Find out what people who have graduated after studying the same subject have gone on to do. Then make sure at least one of those options, if not more, are suitable careers for you.

Does the career for which the major prepares you have a good employment outlook?

It is essential to study interesting subject matter, but if it doesn't prepare you for a career that has a good future, it won't be well-spent money. Find out what the job outlook is for the career or careers, you are considering.

Will majoring in this area of study give you valuable soft skills?

In spite of having taken great care to choose an occupation, you may want to, in the future, change your career. Think about whether your major will lock you into this career or if it will also prepare you for some alternative options. In addition to attaining hard skills, also known as technical skills, from your studies, also amass valuable soft skills that are transferable to other occupations. They will be useful regardless of your career. While it won't help you avoid going back to school to train for a new career, you will be off to a good start.

Will you have to go to graduate school?

Finally, ask yourself if you can get a good job with your undergraduate degree. Some majors have minimal opportunities for those who have only a bachelor's degree and also require a graduate degree. If yours does, find out if a particular area of undergraduate study is required for admission to graduate school and choose your major based on that.

Some Key Takeaways About Choosing a Major

  • If you've chosen a career, know what the educational requirements are, and select a major accordingly.
  • If you haven't chosen a career yet, pick a major that is flexible and can give you valuable soft skills.
  • It is essential to be both interested in the subject matter and have the ability to succeed in that area of study.