Sometimes, it feels like a college major defines who you are and what your life will be like in college — from the people you’ll be surrounded by in your classes to the conversations with friends and family about what you’re studying in school, so it’s no surprise that when underclassmen come to this critical point in college, they’re a little stressed out.
Choosing your major isn’t a life or death decision. It’s simply a choice that yes, will affect your college experience, but won’t restrict your career choices moving forward. Unsure of what major is perfect for you? Here are a few tips that will help you make your decision.
1. Don’t panic
Choosing a college major can become stressful with persistent family members weighing in on what you should be doing with your life, but no one should be choosing your major for you, so try to drown out the noise to make a calm, smart decision. Focus on what you want moving forward, and get all the information you can to make an educated choice for your next four years and beyond.
Since your major will make up most of the required classes in your course load, it’s a good strategy to choose a subject you know and love. Take some time to do a self-assessment of your abilities. Think about your favorite courses, your favorite professors, or your favorite projects. Think about what you like to do in your spare time, your extracurricular activities, and even past part-time jobs. Is there a pattern there, like an inclination to be creative or a desire to lead a team? You can even go to a favorite professor or an advisor and ask them questions about what they think are your strengths. Once you can pinpoint the areas where you excel, you’ll be set up for success when you decide on your major.
3. Career Assessment
Once you’ve identified the values that are important to you through your self-assessment, you can conduct a career assessment in order to set yourself up for success through your major. You can learn about different occupations (check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Handbook), salary outlook and future hiring trends. What types of jobs and industries are on the rise? What could your financial situation look like if you chose a field related to your major?
4. Narrow down your choices
Between the self-assessment and the career evaluation, you can narrow down your choices. What are the top 2 or 3 types of jobs you see yourself taking on 10 years from now? Which positions will make you feel happy and fulfilled? Have a list of potential majors and their related careers so that you can organize your thoughts.
5. Sit in on a few classes
The best way to figure out what life is like with your major is to sit in on a few classes. It’s a great way to find out what skills you’ll gain and what will be expected of you academically. Make sure to take note of the syllabuses as well to ensure that you know exactly what kind of work (and how much work) you’re signing up for.
6. Talk to upperclassmen
While you should absolutely rely on your advisors and professors during this time, upperclassmen can give you a real and honest view of what life will be like with your major. Ask them questions like, “What’s the workload been like?” and “Who are the best professors and why?” Talk to them about their classmates and the culture around their major: Is it competitive or supportive? Ask these upperclassmen why they love their major, what made them confident in their decision and what they wish they could change about their major. This will help you to be armed with a more accurate picture of the advantages and disadvantages to your field of study.
7. Remember that you’re not tied to your major
Choosing your major can feel like you’re deciding your fate for the next 3 or 4 years–even the rest of your life, but the important thing to remember is that your major does not define your career path. In fact, the average twenty-something changes jobs once every three years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This may seem like a big, life-changing decision, but instead think of it as an interest that can help you to grow personally, academically and professionally and truly prepare you to kill it in the career world.
The trick to choosing the perfect college major is to make a calm, educated decision. Once you have all the information you need and focus on what you truly want moving forward, you’ll feel far more confident that you’re making the right decision.