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A Guide to Choosing the Right College Major

December 07, 2020 · 7 minute read

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A Guide to Choosing the Right College Major

After spending months researching and applying to colleges, taking standardized tests, and dreaming of the day you’ll eventually fly the coop, you’ve finally decided on a school.

You should be proud of this incredible achievement; some folks would say that getting into college is the hardest part. But weighing and comparing schools isn’t the only difficult decision you’ll be faced with regarding school. At some point, you’ll also be tasked with choosing a major.

A huge number of college freshmen haven’t settled on a field of study, so you’re not alone if you’ve been wondering, “What should I major in?” Choosing what to study at college can feel like a nerve-racking decision, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are steps you can take to ensure you make an informed decision that you’ll be happy with and that will lead you down an exciting career path. The process requires research, introspection, and a lot of conversations with the people who can help guide you.

Here, we’ll talk about what it’s like to go to college, how your major can affect your life, and the steps you can take to choose a college major that’s right for you.

When Is It Necessary to Declare a Major?

To be certain that you choose a major that’s best suited to you, it helps to know what college will be like. When you arrive at school, you’ll be expected to take general education classes. These classes will probably feel like an extension of your high school classes, with slightly more flexibility.

They might take up about a year’s worth of coursework. Some students may be able to opt out of some general education classes because of their high school credit. (Even if you think you know what you want to do, taking general education classes can be a great way to explore different areas of study while carefully taking note as to whether you actually like the subject.)

Schools usually require that you declare a major by the end of your sophomore year. Even if you’re leaning toward a major, there’s not a particular rush to declare. What’s more important is that you take a variety of classes if you’re undecided, and then begin honing in on classes within the subjects that interest you most.

Just be cognizant that if your chosen field requires sequential classes, you may not be able to take quite as long to shop around for a major. It’s easier to switch out of being a science or engineering major than it is to switch into that field.

Why Choosing the Right Major Is Important

Your college major is the first stepping stone to your career. It will not decide your entire career path, just as your first job will not determine your entire career, but it will launch you on a particular trajectory. It is important, but it is not everything. Your school major is not the only chance you have to learn, grow, and change.

What does having the “right major” mean, anyway? There are many ways to assess this, but three of the most important are: Is it something that truly engages you? Does it set you up for a career that you’ll enjoy? Will it sustain your lifestyle? The ideas are connected, but it can help to think about them separately.

It seems obvious to say that you should choose a degree based on your interests, but it’s a consideration that you should respect. Not only would it be a bummer to miss the opportunity to learn about a subject that fascinates you, but true engagement in a topic can have numerous ripple benefits.

You’ll probably be more motivated and committed to lifelong learning and less likely to feel burnt out in school or later in your career.

Sometimes choosing a major that you enjoy can feel at odds with the one that’s “right” for your career. It’s important to balance both. And really, no college major will ever relegate you to one specific career destiny. No major will guarantee success, just as no major alone will deny you from success.

No matter what major you decide on, it’s good to understand early that the most financially successful people are typically either folks with a more technical major who also have a good grasp of soft skills such as management, or liberal arts majors who also acquire technical skills along the way (for example, a copywriter who can write about technology or science).

Satisfaction Survey Results

BestColleges.com conducted a 2020 survey to see how happy college graduates were with their choice of major. The survey asked numerous questions, with results tabulated for each question from each of the following generations: Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation.

There is plenty of interesting information in the survey, and here are three key findings:

•   61% of respondents would change their major if that were possible.
•   About 26% of participants would change their major to reflect their passions.
•   About 30% of the Millennials who participated said they should have chosen a major with better job opportunities.

Remember that this survey focused on college graduates who were looking back at decisions they’d already made about their majors. As a current college student, you still have the ability to make the right decision, and here are six steps to consider on that journey.

6 Steps to Choosing Your College Major

Here are a few steps you can take to find the right college major for yourself.

1. Exploring

The problem with making a decision about which major to choose when you’re a teenager is that you haven’t tried a lot of things yet. Parents and schools still seem to box kids into subjects and extracurricular activities that don’t provide much real-world application.

Also, parents (and admissions offices) oftentimes expect children to excel at one or two things, instead of casually trying lots of different things, which is unfortunate. It’s okay, though—the first year or two of college is a fine opportunity to explore, even if you think you know what major you’ll choose.

To begin, think about what you enjoy and what you’re good at. In addition to subjects, include skills such as leadership or organization. Next, consider the majors that match up with those interests. Branch out beyond the same ol’ subjects you took in high school.

Sign up for academic or pre-professional clubs—they’re a great way to learn more about career possibilities, create a support network as you’re enrolling in classes, seek out job-related opportunities, and meet people who share your interests. If you plan on working while you’re in college, find a job in a field you’re interested in.

2. Talking to People

Leverage your involvement in academic or professional clubs by speaking with other students, professors, and guest lecturers about their career experience. You’re likely to learn more about what a career is like by speaking to someone with real-life experience than by trying to glean its essence through some stale online resource.

Find a career counselor at your school who is willing to discuss with you, at length, options for majors and career opportunities.

It’s also no secret that we can have very skewed opinions of ourselves. Often, we’re too hard on ourselves or don’t recognize our own talents. It can help to have conversations with the people in your life whom you know will provide constructive observations and advice.

You never have to take the advice, but it’s entirely possible that you’ll learn something about your strengths you never knew before.

Talk about your future with the most trustworthy, observational people in your circle. This could be family, friends, teachers, coaches, teammates, guidance counselors, or friends’ parents.

3. Thinking About the Money

While no one expects that you have money figured out, you should have a general idea about how the decisions you make in college will affect you later in life.

First, investigate the starting salaries for different majors and entry-level jobs. If you can, adjust for your geographical location. This is an especially important exercise if you have student loans. Even if you don’t have student loans, having a realistic idea about salaries ,job availability , and cost of living in your area is important.

Thinking big is great, but you should also look at the logistics of each major you’re considering. What are the time and credit requirements? Does your school even offer your desired major?

What does your school offer for minors, and could you double-major? Are you trying to graduate in three years to save money? Do you want to study abroad? Find a major that works within your schedule and, ultimately, your budget.

It’s also important to look ahead. Is a career of choice expected to be in demand in the future? Is the demand expected to actually increase?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook allows you to review occupations by median pay, the number of new jobs projected, the projected growth rate, the amount of education required for an entry-level job in the field, and so forth.

4. Getting Granular

After exploring options, talking to people in the know, and thinking about the money, it may be obvious which major is best. If so, full sails ahead! If not, that’s okay. At this point, a good strategy can be to create an in-depth list that includes:

•   Your strengths (as mentioned above, consider asking friends, family members, and others for input).
•   Your weaknesses (just as with your strengths, asking others may be insightful).
•   Activities you enjoy.
•   Tasks you dread.

Does creating a more detailed list provide extra insight?

Also talk to a college counselor about aptitude testing. Are career fairs that you can attend coming to your school? Volunteer at relevant places and see if you can secure an internship in an area of special interest. Spread your net wide and take all you’ve listed and learned to make a choice that’s right for you.

5. Post-graduate Plans?

Is a bachelor’s degree what’s needed for a career of choice? Or will more schooling be required? Before finalizing your major, it makes sense to be clear about how much education you’ll need for a particular job.

If a master’s degree or more is required, is this something you’re interested in pursuing?

6. Filling in the Gaps

This post has focused on choosing the right major—but you may also consider selecting a minor. Your minor opens up another academic discipline and can provide you with additional skills that can help you pursue your ideal career.

If, for example, you want to become a psychiatrist, it can make sense to have a business minor if you want to open a solo practice.

Whenever possible, it makes sense to choose a minor at the same time you declare your major. This allows a student to strategically schedule classes so that they can graduate within the planned time frame. If you plan to pursue education beyond a bachelor’s degree, will this choice of minor help you?

No matter what you decide, know that your flexibility, creativity, and passion for life-long learning will have as much to do with your success as a major. Be open and work hard.

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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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