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How To Decide What Your College Major Should Be

If I could go back in time and tell 14-year-old me — who was set on pursuing a degree in screenwriting — that as a third-year undergraduate student, I’ve changed my college major not one, not two, not three, but four times, her jaw would be on the floor. I can see my younger self pacing back and forth, freaking out about how, at the big, scary age of 20, I’m just now honing in on a major and career I’m excited about. There isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to go about answering the question, “what should I major in?” However, I wish more people knew that changing your mind, exploring multiple paths, and considering different options in college is totally normal. 

Although I loved the idea of working in screenwriting throughout high school, I now realize I was just sticking to the first major that came to mind — in a way, to avoid the overwhelm of choosing between countless options. Back then, I had no idea what resources, if any, could help me explore and narrow down my interests. However, as a now-seasoned veteran of flip-flopping between departments, I’ve picked up some tools that have helped lead me to where I am now: confident and passionate about my field of study. If you’re trying to make a decision but you’re feeling stuck, here are some tips for how to choose your college major and what higher ed professionals recommend.

first, research your options.

PSA: You do not have to be confined to the traditional, popular majors offered at almost every university in America. During your application process, don’t be afraid to explore unique, interdisciplinary majors, too — the process alone may lead you to discover a niche topic or major that you didn’t even know was an option! 

For example, you can major in Wine and Viticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Comedic Arts at Emerson University, Pop Music at the University of Southern California, and even Puppetry at the University of Connecticut. New York University offers a degree through the Gallatin School of Individualized Study in which you can design your own interdisciplinary program that meets your specific interests and career goals. Some schools like NC State University even have “exploratory studies” programs that allow first-year students to sample classes and see what they enjoy the most. If there isn’t a college major that’s genuinely piquing your interest, you’re not alone. Remember, there are many options out there; it might just take some additional research.

reach out to a college counselor or academic advisor for support.

When choosing your major, be sure to visit an advisor or counselor to explore and discuss your options. It’s an advisor’s job to help students like you navigate their education, career, and prepare for post-grad life. Even if you’re not entirely sure what you want to talk to your advisor about, set up a meeting anyway; as a professional, they’ll know which questions to ask to help you find clarity and confidence.

“Use your resources,” suggests Kendra Millay, the Academic Advising Team Leader at the college counseling firm IvyWise. She tells Her Campus that when choosing a major, it’s crucial to utilize advisors’ and counselors’ knowledge since they have the expertise to help you establish an academic game plan. 

“Plus, after they hear more about your strengths, weaknesses, and interests, they might have ideas you haven’t even considered!” Millay says. Communicating openly and honestly with your advisor about your passions (as well as subjects you don’t see yourself pursuing) can help them suggest college majors and career paths that are best fit for you.

Take a Career Aptitude Test to explore your unique strengths & Skills.

If you don’t have easy access to a counselor or advisor, or you’re like me and do most of your life-altering thinking while lying in bed at 2 A.M. when meetings aren’t available, try taking a career aptitude test. Think of it as a sophisticated Buzzfeed-style quiz that can match you with potential careers based on your attributes, skills, and personality traits. When taking a career quiz online, you’ll most likely be asked about your interests, situations you do and don’t enjoy, learning and work style, and more — be sure to answer each one honestly!

Once you have your results, Millay says you may also want to consider which skills align with specific majors and careers. “Think about transferrable skills when choosing your majors and minors,” she says. “You’ll want to select a field of study that boosts your marketability with desirable skills after college.” 

For example, if your career aptitude test shows that you’re excellent at communication, this might be the top skill you can use across a variety of college majors and industries. You may find that your existing skills and strengths match well with a specific college major, or your results might reassure you about the academic path you’re already on! 

Set Up An Informational Interview to learn about potential career paths.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about choosing a major, consider asking someone for an informational interview. The premise of an informational interview is to chat with someone who’s working in an area that piques your interest. It’s also a perfect way to explore whether or not a particular career is one that you’d actually like. Whether it’s over the phone, on Zoom, or meeting at a coffee shop, try shooting someone an email or DM to ask about what they do. If you’re interested in majoring in engineering but don’t know much about it, a current engineering student or alum will have a wealth of information to share!

CHOOSE What You’rE GENUINELY Interested In — Not What YouThink You Should Be Interested In.

While there are many factors to consider when choosing a major and career, remember that you actually want to enjoy what you’re doing. It’s unlikely that you’re going to absolutely love every general education course you have to take for your degree, but you definitely shouldn’t dread them!

“Look for curricula with coursework that excites and interests you. You’ll be spending a lot of time studying, so you might as well enjoy it! Plus, your enthusiasm will usually translate into a better GPA, which future employers and graduate schools love to see,” Mallay tells Her Campus. In turn, skills and knowledge gained in classes that excite you will open the door to careers that will give you that same drive and enthusiasm. 

Give yourself permission to change your mind. 

If you’re super clear on what you want to achieve in life, choosing a college major might not seem like such a daunting task. But what if you don’t? Chances are, you’re still exploring options, and it’s not the end of the world if you aren’t sure what to major in right now.

“The choice of undergraduate major may seem life-changing, but it really isn’t,” says Dr. Deb Geller, a former dean at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). “Further, there is no one major that you must choose as a prerequisite to attend law school, medical school, or any other professional school,” she says. In other words, there are many ways to get to where you want to be.

Although you can feel a lot of pressure to choose the perfect linear path in college, remember that there are many ways to achieve your academic and professional goals, and choosing a major is just one small part of that journey. In fact, it’s super common for college students to change their minds and pivot directions: Studies show that about 80% of college students change their major throughout their college education. 

“Choosing a subject in which you are interested and in which you excel will yield the best — and happiest — results,” says Geller. 

When the time comes to make a decision, be sure to explore your options, talk to an advisor, and remember: it’s OK to change your mind. Good luck!

Experts
Kendra Millay, Academic Advising Team Leader, IvyWise
Dr. Deb Geller, former Dean at University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA)

McKenna is currently a sophomore at the University of Washington but is originally from Santa Monica, California. She is majoring in English and minoring in Law, Justice, and Societies. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, shopping, ordering Postmates, and listening to The Spins by Mac Miller on repeat.
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