Choosing your college major is one of the most stressful (and consequential) decisions you’ll make in your life. Rather than panicking, this decision can be approached in a logical way by identifying traits in yourself, doing your research, and setting goals.
1. Start with you.
Take sometime to get to know yourself. Instead of finding your “passion,” a word with heavy, life-altering connotations, begin with determining your interests. The New York Times published the article “Four Steps to Choosing a Major” that explains passion is actually “a collection of small decisions that move you step by tiny step.” Not everyone is going to know their life’s passion at the start of college, but most people can easily name their interests. Interests often grow into passion over time. Also, being realistic about your abilities can save you time and heartbreak. Identify your strengths and see how they intersect with you interests. Before declaring a major, establish your core beliefs and values. What matters to you in life? Helping others? Making money? Becoming a great innovator? Channel those values into your abilities and interests.
2. Set goals.
Envision your end goal—what you want your career and life to look like—then work you’re way backwards to help decide your major. When deciding your goals, it’s important to tune out the opinion of others. Parents, friends, and mentors all want what’s best for you, but they don’t know your personal goals like you do. Your parents may encourage you to pursue a high-earning career or on the other hand, your friends may tell for you to follow your dreams without regard of your financial future. Ultimately, the choice is yours and you need to set a goal that’s going to fulfill you.
3. Wait to commit.
There’s no need to decide on a major before you get to college. Test out different fields of study by taking introductory courses and seeing what you enjoy. It’s also important to do your research and understand the requirements and preparation needed to succeed in a career you’re exploring. What courses, internships, and possible additional schooling will you need? It’s crucial to know all of this information before you decide on a major. The University of Washington Undergraduate Academic Affairs website has a great bullet point list to guide you through researching majors. If the path to a career seems unrealistic or miserable for you, then you may need to go in another direction.
4. Remember the real world.
It’s easy to focus on only education in the college environment and neglect to think about the real world. College is only for a short period of time, and you need to remind yourself that you’re getting an education for the real world. When deciding on a major, put your choice into a real world context. While being a doctor means having a great earning potential, it also means forgoing your quality of life to a certain degree with a demanding, high stress schedule. Are you able to sacrifice aspects of your personal life for high pay? Also, what is the future employability of your major? Are the skills you’re learning in high demand or would you be entering an oversaturated job market? It’s crucial to realistically think about how your major will serve you after graduation.
5. Be flexible.
Realize that one of the few things you can control in life is your major. Employment availability can depend on numerous factors—location, demand, new technology, etc. Make yourself the most employable by being open to opportunity. Chances are your perfect job doesn’t exist and if it does, it’s not going to be the first job you get right after graduation. Avoid overspecializing in a specific concentration of your major, but rather opt for a broad understanding of the subject. Often specialized skill sets in a career field can be learned on the job. Obtaining a more generalized education in your area of study can make you a better candidate for more employment opportunities.