“What are you going to major in?” Your parents and even friends of your parents are asking you this question now that you have been accepted to college. Some kids just seem to have their five and 10-year plans all mapped out by the time they graduate from high school. They have their college majors selected; they know exactly what courses they will be taking during their four years; and they already have at least a cursory career path in mind.
On the other hand, a lot are in Neverland with hardly any idea about the future plans and possible career options. I was once such kid and now my niece seems to be as lost as I was.
The only thing she knows for certain is that she is leaving for college at the end of the summer, will go through freshman orientation, and will sign up for the regular general education courses that are required.
At this point, you typically have no idea what to choose for a major, and it is beginning to worry you. Relax! You don’t have to select a major tomorrow — in fact, you don’t absolutely have to declare one until your sophomore year!
What you want to do right now is start exploring the possibilities, and that can be kind of fun. Here are 10 steps to take between now and that declaration day that will ensure you pick the right field.
All you have left to do is just to explore.
Explore your interests and the possibilities at your school.
Chances are, you may have taken one of these during high school, and you got a report that indicated some things — you like to work with people or you prefer to work alone; you have verbal or non-verbal (math, science, technology) strengths; you prefer mental activities or hands-on activities, and so on. Based on that test, you were probably given of list of career fields that you might want to pursue. See if you can take a couple more of these tests. Ask your high counselor if he or she has any more or can recommend ones that are online. The ore information you get about yourself, the better!
Most students enroll in English, math, science, and at least one social science course (history, political science, sociology, etc.), and then an elective, for their first semester. Depending upon the requirements, some of these will bleed into a second semester course; others won’t. As you are in these courses, think. Which one(s) do you really like? Is it because of the content or because the instructor is just so good? Be careful — discover your interests by content!
Which electives did you like best in high school? Sign up for related ones now. If you begin to develop a really keen interest in one of them, then you have a possibility.
Go to lectures and programs that are related to courses in which you have developed an interest. Campuses have guest speakers all the time; you can also request permission to sit-in on an upper level class or two — professors are pretty flexible that way.
Talk to upperclassmen who are in majors that you are considering. Are they passionate about their courses? Are the challenges really huge? You know yourself, and you know how much effort you typically put in. If you really like the idea of architecture, for example, are you aware of how much math is involved? You need to find out!
Part of the reason you are going to college is to eventually get a job in a good career field. And that job needs to pay your bills and put food on your table. For every major you are considering, you need to do the research. What is the job market in that field? Will you be in demand or is the field a bit overloaded.
There are many lawyers today who are not working in their fields after seven years of education and a bar exam because there are not enough jobs! You also need to research what the income expectations are for your possible career. What are starting salaries and what are people earning 10 years in? While money shouldn’t be your first consideration, if you are determined to own a Mercedes, then you will not be happy in a career that will only allow a Ford.
Now you are ready to make a list of the possibilities, based on your research.
This could include friends of your parents, relatives, and parents of your friends. When you are home on break, ask if you can shadow them for a day, or set up a time to just sit down and talk about the pros and cons of their career fields.
During the summer between your freshman and sophomore years, see if you can get an internship or volunteer someplace related to a field you are considering.
Thinking about sociology or psychology? Volunteer in a homeless shelter or tutor kids at a community center. Thinking about veterinary science? Volunteer to clean cages at the local vet office, and observe all that goes on. Thinking about broadcast journalism? Most radio and TV stations will let you come in and observe at least.
Getting some real-world understanding of what this career involves is pretty important.
Once you have made a choice, there is still some time to make changes.
If you are still undecided between two or three majors, think about going for a combination — major/major, major/minor, major/minor/minor. Such a plan can also expand your employment options when you graduate. For example, suppose you really want to major in English, but the job market may not be so great. Get a minor in education and get the right certification in your state, so that you can teach while you write your first novel.
Interested in majoring in music? Learning some other music production skills could make that more marketable. How about a business minor, so that while you are forming and promoting your band, you can work the other side of the career and feed yourself! Political science and psychology also go well together, particularly if you are considering law school. Some major fields will not lend themselves to minors, because they just require too much time and usually entail practicums. Nursing is a prime example.
Before you settle into a major and begin your junior year, you have another decision that may impact your final selection. What do you want to do upon graduation? If you intend to go right into your career field with employment, then be certain that jobs are available.
If not, you may want to consider grad school, because employment opportunities will increase with a master’s. And some fields will absolutely require at least a master’s. No one with a bachelor’s in sociology or psychology, for example, will find work in their fields with just a bachelor’s. If, on the other hand, you have majored in math and received teacher certification along with a minor in education, you will be hot commodity right out of college.
Remember, above all else, that, at this point, time is on your side. You can enjoy your first one-and-a-half years of college before you have to declare. And when the next person asks you, “What are you majoring in?” reply in confidence. “Well, I haven’t yet decided among several options. I want to do some research in possible fields, find out what is required, and see what the market says about employment prospects.” Just think how smart you will sound!