How to Choose the Right 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 your major wisely. Some students enter college knowing what occupation they want to pursue 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, you would have to major in accounting; or to become a physical therapist, your major would be physical therapy. These areas of study teach skills that are essential to performing these jobs.

For other occupations, students have more leeway in what they can study, but there are 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.

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 select a major that will give them the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of occupations.

Students who enter college without a solid career plan should select 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.

The main points to consider when choosing a career include:

  • If you've chosen a career, know what the educational requirements are, and select a major accordingly.
  • If you haven't chosen a career, select 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.

Considerations for Selecting a Major

When selecting a major, it is important to consider certain aspects of a field of study, such as your interests, your ability to do well and the job outlook, to determine if it is the right career path for you.

Career Interests

If you are considering 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.

Chances of Success at Obtaining the Degree

The area of study you are considering may seem extremely interesting, but consider if earning this degree is feasible. Also, you will need to be able to get good grades. There will also be required courses outside of 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. 

Don't 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 such as statistics.

Chances of Finding Employment

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 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 are held by people in your area of interest.

Majors That Offer More Than One Career Opportunity

Some individuals choose majors solely based on an interest in the course material. 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 graduates who studied in this area have gone on to do. Then make sure at least one of those options, if not more, are suitable careers for you.

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 you are considering.

Other Benefits of the Major

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 have a good start.

Graduate School

Consider whether you can get a good job solely 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 information.

Useful Resources

When researching careers, a reliable source is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS provides extensive career information such as job outlook, median annual salary, required education and skills, and links to similar careers. This information can greatly assist you in determining a career that's right for you based on your abilities, interests, and goals.

Payscale is another resource that offers the latest career information, such as median annual and hourly salary, job description, and required skills.

In addition, many colleges and universities offer career counseling services for students looking to make the best decision for their future.