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How to Choose Your College Major

Finding your college major may seem like magic or winning the lottery. It turns out—it isn’t. There are processes and strategies you can use to help you make accurate guesses about which major is the right fit for you. Proper research, self-evaluation, informal and formal networks to communicate with,

Finding your college major may seem like magic or winning the lottery — it turns out — it isn’t.

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There are processes and strategies you can use to help you make accurate guesses about which major is the right fit for you. Proper research, self-evaluation, informal and formal networks to communicate with, and keeping a generally open mind are all proactive ways to find a major that fits the person you are. Stereotypical advice says to follow your passion and the career you want will emerge or become apparent throughout the process. The stereotype is good advice; naturally, you will be happier if you pursue a career you feel passionate towards.

However, if you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you feel stuck, confused or overwhelmed—and maybe you haven’t found something you would describe as your passion. It may be that you have a clear set of interests but need guidance on pursuing them in an academic and professional setting. If you’re struggling to come to a decision, don’t default to the path of least resistance out of feeling frustrated, or do whatever other people are telling you because it’ll bring an end to your indecision. Choosing your major is significant and will shape your college years and the opportunities available to you once you graduate.

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Take time to consider your options and seriously weigh the pros and cons. Ask yourself tough and incisive questions about the kind of career you think you’d eventually want to have and can see yourself enjoying. For the remainder of this article, we’ll go over steps you can take and strategies to use that will help you logically approach this question and make headway on reaching an answer.

Strategies to Help You Choose Your Major

To start, self-reflect and ask yourself relevant questions on what interests or activities appeal to you most. Don’t brush off completing this exercise because you think you already know the answer. Forcing yourself to sit and think over the questions by writing them down will give you a better sense of direction and offer a reference point for choosing your major. Where it applies, try ranking your answers according to what you feel is their level of importance or priority.

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Here are questions to help you get started:
  1. What are your priorities?
  2. What are your interests?
  3. What do you like doing during your spare time?
  4. What are your hobbies?
  5. What do you do when you’re with your friends?
  6. Do your family or friends think you have any unique talents?

7. Do you think you have any skills?

Some guidance on approaching these questions is to think about what you do during your typical day that you enjoy most. If you feel the need, journal everything you do throughout your day for a week, or a couple of weeks, by itemizing them on paper. Read through your list daily and consider how you feel about doing those things. Assign a number beside them as a reference. You can use this list to show other people and ask them whether they see a possible career based on something you’re already doing daily during your regular day.

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It could be something as simple as scrolling through social media, cooking elaborate meals or taking your dog for a walk. Maybe you love shopping, fashion or helping other people get through relationship problems. Whatever you spend time doing—make a list and ask yourself what it is about doing that thing that you enjoy most. Try to focus on the underlying reason that attracts you to that hobby or activity.

It could be that social media inspires you and connects you with other like-minded people. Maybe you have a passion for fitness and want to help people learn to improve their lifestyle and physical health. Whatever it is, focusing on the deeper reasons that attract you to doing that thing brings light on what your values and priorities are.

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If you love animals, sports, makeup, film, photography, computers, comedy, food, or anything else, identifying these things gives you a stepping stone to finding a suitable major that aligns with your interests. Remember to discover your passion and hobbies you must engage in different activities and consistently explore opportunities as they come up. You won’t find your passion by sitting in your room and thinking about it. Learning about who you are is not that straightforward. To discover your interests, you need to engage in self-exploration and consistently try new things you haven’t tried before.

Tools to Help you Discover your Interests

There are numerous online resources that offer self-assessment tools, and suggest potential career paths on your results. Harvard’s self-assessment tool on their website uses the Myer’s-Briggs personality test to algorithmically recommend careers that align with your personality type. Harvard’s site has another test called the Strong Interest Inventory. This self-assessment tool was developed by psychologist John Holland and is backed by more than 80 years of research.

The Strong Interest Inventory gives a comprehensive and robust assessment of a person’s interests, and recommends careers based on the personal interests they uncover.

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Take advantage of credible resources that have demonstrated success and are designed to help recommend careers that capture your interests and fit you personally.

Tools to Help you Discover your Potential Careers

Realistically, one of the most significant factors in choosing a major is its associated career opportunities and earning potential. To learn about careers and their earning potential, research information on numerous career salaries and create a list of careers that appeal to you and fit the lifestyle you want to have from a financial point of view. Career OneStop is a website that offers resources on personal career exploration through a suite of self-and-skills assessment tests. Their site includes stats on careers in the US and provides information like median salary for different occupations, minimum level of education required and maximum level of education (their stats are based on data from 2020.)

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You can see the list of highest-paying careers by occupation, their average hourly and annual wage, and standard level of education. For example, the highest paying occupation on average in the US is anesthesiologists, with an average hourly rate of more than $100USD and a median annual income of over $208,000. Being an anesthesiologist typically requires either a professional or specialized degree or that you have your Doctorate. So, if you see yourself as an anesthesiologist, you’ll be earning a fairly substantial income (and the highest hourly income in the US according to occupation.) You’ll also be in school for a substantial amount of time to earn your qualifications. The amount you earn in any career is contingent on several factors. Location, occupational demand, market competition, the hours you’re willing to put in and sacrifices you’re willing to make to earn a higher salary all play into your compensation.

Image courtesy of the World Economic Forum.

Research the fastest-growing careers, careers with declining employment rates, consider using other tools that compare occupations salaries and measure your skills based on the job requirements. Think about occupations that match your skillset currently (or the skillset you’ll develop once you choose a major according to that career.) There’s an online tool called Skills Matcher that suggests jobs based on your skillset.

The Skills Matcher tool lets you rate what you consider your level of skill to be across a range of subjects, and provides benchmarks to assess the difficulty of each group. Use existing resources to get your brain thinking about different jobs and whether you can picture yourself doing any of those things. Gauge your attitude and internal responses towards doing those kinds of work tasks they ask you to consider. Get into the habit of asking specific and pointed questions about your skills and interests and get opinions from other people like your siblings, friends, other family members, extended family or anyone you can talk to — whether you know them personally or professionally. Check out forums and posts on sites like Reddit, Medium and other online community forums or discussion groups.

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Remember—there are no wrong or bad questions. The following questions are meant as a starting point to get you thinking about relevant factors in deciding your major. It’s not an exhaustive list, so keep asking yourself these types of questions.

Questions to Ask Yourself when Choosing Your Major

Consider administrative or clerical work that requires you to be available to answer phones all day, communicate with clients and customers, help employers, maintain files and so on. If this type of work attracts you, or you can see yourself excelling in this role, then add it to your list of possible career choices. How competent do you consider yourself when it comes to solving complex problems, developing strategic plans, working under pressure and communicating ideas in a digestible manner to other people? How would you rate your technological skills, are there any programs you excel at in particular? Would you be interested in learning how to code or a degree in computer science?

What would you rate your proficiency level with programs like Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint, Word, etc.? How familiar are you with areas in banking or financial and economic structures? Could you see yourself working in finance? Do you see yourself at a desk job with a 9–5 schedule? Would you prefer a flexible schedule that lets you choose when you want to work, or do you require structure to stay disciplined and on track?

Are you interested in conducting extensive research in academic fields like psychology or other social sciences? Do you have the patience for tedious literary conventions, and would you be willing to wait to enter the workforce so you can progress in an academic career or specialized program? Once you’ve created a list, work backwards to see which college majors prepare you best for careers in industries that appeal to your interest.

Work backwards based on careers that interest you to choose a major.
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These questions are valuable because they force you to confront what you think are your best assets and core competencies. If you’ve compiled a list of potential careers that interest you, connect the dots and research which degrees are best suited to that career path. All significant life decisions require that you take time to properly think things through and evaluate your options. Choosing your major is no different. As we’ve seen, there are innumerable factors that play into your decision on which major to choose.

Potential career satisfaction, examining coursework, prospective career income, understanding your personal strengths weaknesses, likes and dislikes, values and priorities, and how willing you are to pursue advanced degrees. Even from reading this article, you are making progress and being proactive in your search for a subject major. Continue reading and researching, be selective about the information you consume and stay aware of your internal responses to whatever you find during the process. Finding the major that suits you takes work, but it’ll pay off in the end—literally and figuratively.

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