How to Choose a College Major

Choosing a college major can be a major decision. What you get your degree in can ultimately decide what you end up doing for the rest of your life. Additionally, there’s no doubt that college is a significant investment, so you’ll want to be confident that you’re spending your college years studying a subject that’s relevant to the industry you want to work in, and that it’s something that truly interests you.

Here are five tips to help you choose a college major:

1. Identify the industry you want to work in. This may seem like an obvious one, but too many college students don’t give this enough thought when choosing a college major. You may not know exactly what it is you want to do when you start college, and that’s okay. Plenty of established professionals end up changing their career paths after they’ve been working in the same industry for a long time, so there isn’t necessarily a “right” time to know what it is you want to do. However, the sooner you have at least some idea of the industry you want to work in, the better off you’ll be when it comes to choosing a major.

While it’s true that some employers may not put too much emphasis on an applicant’s major and may care more that the applicant went to college, you’ll want to do your best to stay ahead of the competition by picking a relevant major. Attend job fairs, speak to recruiters, and consult your school’s advisors and career department to find out what job seekers are really looking for when it comes to placing certain roles. What might seem like an obvious major choice for a particular job or industry may not be the case, and what employers are actually looking for could surprise you. Another way to find out what employers are seeking from candidates in the industry you’re interested in is to scan online job listings and see what type of degree they seek. If you notice a pattern for the jobs you really want, you could easily find your answer that way.

2. The best time to pick a major. Some college students will register for school and start with their basic required courses before declaring a major, and that’s perfectly fine. It could be better to go this route if you’re still undecided, but ideally, you’ll want to pick your major before you even decide what college you want to attend. If you have options for different college choices, your decision could weigh heavily on the fact that one school offers a program or major that the other schools don’t. Even as a freshman, you might get a head start on the coursework that’s needed to ultimately graduate with a degree in a specific field of study. This not only makes your college years a bit easier, but depending on the school you’re attending, could be critical. For example, you might be attending your first two years at a community college with the intention of transferring to a state university for your last two. Transfer agreements vary, and while some will allow students to transfer to any university within the state, other community colleges might only have a transfer agreement with a few specific schools. If these schools don’t offer the major you were hoping for and you realize it too late, you could potentially run into problems.

3. Why it’s important to pick the right major. The major you pick is the foundation for your career training. Picking the wrong major and taking too long to realize it was the wrong choice for you can end up being a waste of time and money. Alternatively, while you might be happy with the major you chose and the classes you’re taking, you might eventually realize that the major you picked isn’t ideal for the career you want to pursue. Depending on the type of job you want post-college, the degree you have can make all the difference, and certain industries could be firm on the type of education they’re looking for in candidates. In a competitive job market, it’s crucial to pick the right major as soon as possible.

4. Financial consequences of changing majors. Changing a major—especially after several semesters—doesn’t just waste time, but it can be an expensive choice as well. College tuition is an investment, and if you took classes that no longer apply to a new major, you may have wasted your money on them. You may be able to transfer some of those credits as elective credits, or they may satisfy other requirements, but there’s no guarantee. Otherwise, it’s like paying double for the same amount of credits. You’ll need to start taking new classes that are required for your new major, and depending on how far along you are in your college career, this is can be a very expensive decision to make.

5. Planning for the future. It’s important to think beyond your undergraduate degree when you’re declaring your major. If you think there’s any chance you may have plans to return to college for a professional degree, you’ll need to plan accordingly when declaring your undergraduate major, depending on what you want sort of professional degree you’d like to pursue. For example, if you think you might want to go to medical school one day, it’s likely that your undergraduate major will need to be biology, or something related. If your undergraduate degree is completely different than what you want to pursue years later, you may need to return to school just to take specific courses before you can move ahead.

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