Choosing a college major is a critical decision that can impact your college experience, your career choices, and your personal development. When making this decision, it’s essential to consider your interests, goals, and skills. By doing so, you can find a major that aligns with your passions and career aspirations.
We’re sharing what we know to help you seek out and pursue the major that is the best fit for you. Ready? Let’s go!
The first step in choosing a college major is to identify your interests and passions. Consider the subjects that excite you and the activities you enjoy. Make a list of your hobbies, extracurricular activities, and volunteer experiences to see if there are any common themes. This will give you an idea of what you enjoy and what you would like to study.
As CollegeReady board president Susan Schoenberger explains, selecting a major based on what you like will ensure you stay interested in the subject matter and in your classes.
“When I was trying to determine my course of study, I was encouraged by many people to get a general business degree because they felt it would be most practical when looking for a job after graduation,” Susan explains. “However, I knew if I had to sit in a classroom for four years listening to business-related lectures that I wouldn’t make it.”
So she stopped and did some self-reflection. “I had always loved to read and talk about books, so I followed my heart and became an English major. As it turned out, it set me up perfectly for my career: I can analyze information quickly, I can write effectively, and I can communicate and work in a team environment. Most jobs required those skills, and I developed them while taking classes I loved,” she says.
While pursuing your passion is essential, that’s not the only thing to think about!
It’s also important to consider the job market and career opportunities. Research the types of careers that align with your interests and passions. Look for growth industries and high-demand jobs that match your skills and goals. This can help you narrow down your options and make a more informed decision about your major.
PRO TIP: Head to Indeed.com and search for jobs that line up with the career that you’re considering. Find a few and read through the position descriptions.
Can you see yourself doing the work that’s described? Try to get a feel for the skills and qualifications. Note anything that piques your interest, as well as anything you’re definitely NOT interested in! Those ‘red flags’ can be a helpful guide, too.
Your college/university offers a TON of resources to help you with this! When you’re ready to start exploring careers (hint: do this early in your college career – don’t wait!), find the office that provides this type of support on your campus and get in touch with them. You may be directed to your Academic Advisor, Student Services, the Career Center, or within specific academic departments, depending on your school.
High school students can utilize hands-on college & career exploration software that is often available right at school. Ask your school counselor to help you get started!
We recommend checking out the Explore Careers section on Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC)’s website. Scroll down and click on “What can I do with this major?” to launch a super user-friendly, hands-on resource. You’ll find over 100 different majors featured with common career paths, types of employers that hire in the field, and strategies to get involved and maximize opportunities.
Once you’ve identified your interests and career goals, it’s time to explore your options. Look at the colleges and universities you are interested in and the majors they offer. Consider the curriculum, requirements, and prerequisites for each major.
“Going to college is all about learning new things!” says college academic advisor Danielle Freeman. “Sometimes that includes learning about a new career field that you never even knew was an option.”
A great way to get started is by talking to college counselors, professors, and current students to get a better understanding of what each major entails. You may want to ask questions like, ‘Do you enjoy your college coursework, and why?’ or ‘What jobs are available for students who choose this major?’
Attending information sessions and open houses can also provide valuable insights and help you get a feel for the culture of the major.
Different majors require specific personality traits and skills. For instance, some majors may require creativity, problem-solving, or technical expertise. Consider your personality and strengths and see if they align with the demands of the major you are considering. You want to choose a major that will challenge you and help you grow, but also one that you will enjoy and feel confident in.
You may realize that a certain major requires a lot of math classes. If you are someone who despises math class, that’s something to seriously consider! The best decisions are informed decisions.
Many colleges offer online tools to help. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay offers career assessments and meetings with career counselors. Likewise, St. Norbert College can help you take a Myers-Briggs evaluation or Strong Interest Inventory to get an accurate picture of your personality characteristics and interests.
Seeking opportunities to gain practical experience can help you make an informed decision about your major. Consider internships, co-op programs, job shadowing, volunteer opportunities, and other hands-on experiences that can give you a better sense of the day-to-day work in your chosen field. Many colleges and universities offer programs that provide students with opportunities to gain real-world experience and apply what they have learned in the classroom.
Internships are an especially great way to get hands-on experience with the work you are interested in doing, while (most likely) earning college credit! You will also meet professionals who can share their career insights and tips that can help you in the future.
Through her college advising work, Danielle also knows that picking a major is not a ‘last stop’ on a students’ career journey. “While choosing a college major is an important piece of your college experience and gives your path direction, always remember that picking a particular major does not lock you into any singular career,” she explains.
“Your full college experience will teach you many transferable skills that can be used in more careers than just the specific one you may be working towards,” says Danielle.
In addition to choosing a major, many colleges and universities also offer the option to add a minor. A minor is a secondary field of study that complements your major and can help you develop additional skills and knowledge in a related area. Adding a minor can be a great way to expand your academic horizons and make yourself more marketable to employers.
When considering a minor, it’s important to choose one that complements your major and aligns with your career goals. Talk to your academic advisor to learn more about the minors offered at your college or university and to see if adding one is a good option for you. Keep in mind that adding a minor can add extra coursework and time to your degree program, so be sure to consider the impact on your overall academic plan.
Finally, it’s essential to remember that choosing a college major is not a one-time decision. Many students change their major or add a minor during their college years. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education, about 30% of college students do it at least once.
College is a time for exploration and experimentation, and it’s not a bad thing to change your mind if you find that your major is not a good fit for you. Some students may discover new interests or change their career goals during their college years, and that’s part of the process.
Danielle explains that students who enter college with a certain career or major in mind are often hesitant to branch out and consider other options.
“You may have spent a good amount of time deciding what major you wanted to pursue, then you get to college and learn that something else would be a better fit for you,” she explains.
“It’s perfectly OK to change your mind and your plan! We would much rather you pursue a program that is a good fit for you than stick with one that isn’t a good fit because you think that it is ‘too late’ to change.“
Your advisor can help you determine how your college career and credits might be impacted by switching your major. Most students take more general classes their first two years anyway, so the classes apply across disciplines, and it shouldn’t upset your timeline too much.
“Always keep your academic advisor in the loop!” urges Danielle. “We can help you create the most efficient plan for you, based on where you’re at in your college career.”
If it was your goal to finish within four years, a change in majors at a later juncture might set you back in both time and tuition. However, if that change means you’ll get on the path you truly desire, that might be the best course of action, and worth it in the long run.
Choosing a college major requires careful consideration of your interests, career goals, skills, and personality. By researching your options, gaining practical experience, and reflecting on your passions, you can find a major that aligns with your personal and professional aspirations.
Remember, your college major is just the first step in your career journey, and you can always adjust your course if you need to.
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