Student's Guide to Choosing a College Major - My Degree

Student’s Guide to Choosing a College Major

Student's Guide to Choosing a College Major - My Degree

Most college students change their major in the course of completing their B.A. or B.S. (between fifty and seventy percent switch at least once). But did you know that some do so three times or more? While you don’t have to know exactly what your career path is going to be when you enroll in college, having at least a general idea of what you’d like to major in is a good idea.

Making this decision ahead of time can help avoid rushed declarations down the road. Arriving on campus with a plan can save money, too: If you know what kind of degree you’d like to earn, you can accelerate the process once core classes are done, and avoid having to double back and take basic courses which are required of certain degree programs.

For example, let’s say you decide as a junior that you’d like to switch your major from Medieval Poetry to Computer Programming. Not only will you have to switch majors, but you will also go from earning a B.A. to a B.S., which requires a different group of courses and prerequisites altogether. You may find yourself sitting in classes with a lot of freshmen, spending money and time you didn’t plan for, with your graduation date delayed.

You might feel different from your classmates if you don’t have a consuming passion to become an architect or a zoologist, but chances are that you have a well-balanced personality with a good bundle of general skills. That means a world of possibilities awaits. If you’d like to have at least some idea of what you’d like to study, but aren’t sure which major to choose, here are a few ways to assess your interests.

Consider Work Environment & Personality Before Field of Study

Where would you be most comfortable in a work environment? Some people function well behind a desk, others in a more hands-on capacity. If you can’t stand the thought of being in a cubicle for eight hours a day, it might be best for you to avoid a life in economics. Those who enjoy the outdoors are better suited for work with nature, animals, or construction. Some jobs, such as structural design or certain forms of engineering, offer a balance of both hands-on as well as indoor work.

It’s also important to be honest with yourself about how well you get along with other people. It’s easy to announce to a hiring manager that you’re a “people person,” but are you really? Is helping others and working collaboratively easy for you, or do you find you must muster the energy to do so?  Maybe you’re more independent, and there’s nothing wrong with that; plenty of fields of study are a mix of introvert and extrovert life. Becoming an auditing accountant, for example, means plenty of time toting the balance sheet, but it also involves working in a group and face-to-face with clients, sometimes in a wide variety of locations. There are niches in every field to fit your personality.

Geography & Family Circumstances

If you live in Iowa and want to become an oceanic marine biologist, there might not be a lot of work available to you near your home. While choosing a career or major, be realistic about where the job will, quite literally, take you.

This is also where keeping track of future costs of living and tamping down student loan costs is a factor. If you’re leaving college with a modern dance degree in hand plus a six-figure loan debt, and you plan to live in Hawaii for a few years, you might have a rough road ahead. But putting that petroleum engineering major to work in Fort Wayne, IN, after having funded most of college from scholarships, means that you should be able to pay off the balance in short order.

Practice, Realities & Networking

These are major life decisions which should not be taken lightly. If you are interested in a job or career which will carry you out of your comfort zone, it’s important to gather as much summer work or semester internships as possible, to ensure that you’re suited for the kind of life awaiting you after graduation. While more and more jobs are becoming remotely accessible, there are some which can’t be done online. Speaking to people already living what you think will be your dream life is a must. Network as much as possible in your chosen degree to have access to a wide range of opinions, working conditions, and career paths.

What is your family situation? Are you single and in your early 20’s with healthy parents and siblings sprawled throughout the nation? Or are you 52 with three kids in high school and a father in a nursing home? Is it feasible for you to pick up and go where the future work is? If not, why not? Are there other ways to angle your path into your preferred degree field? For example, if you’d like to work with tulips but Holland isn’t a possibility right now, how about the plant nursery down the road?

Take a Few Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests provide a very general window, but they’re a window, nonetheless. You might already have some idea where you might like to go. If the sight of blood makes you woozy, the medical field probably isn’t for you. If you really enjoy babysitting your cousins, you might think about doing something with child development. Aptitude tests can shed further light on not only what kinds of careers you’d be suited for, but what kind of personality you have.

For example, you know you enjoy science, but how to narrow that down? An aptitude test can help you filter that into a concentration on research, drug sales, or hospital management. Perspective from outside the classroom is always valuable.

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