Many college applications require you to select a major or state that you are “undeclared”. But what is the best way to choose a major? Here are 5 ideas to guide you.
- Start exploring. It’s never too early or too late to start exploring your interests and connecting them to majors or careers.
- Learn about yourself. Take advantage of career surveys, interest inventories or other questionnaires or resources available to you. The more you understand yourself, the better prepared you are for next steps.
- Research. Tools available to you online or at your school can help you explore what majors are needed for careers you are interested in. Taking classes in subjects required for a major or profession helps you learn more too.
- Try it on. Arrange to do a job shadow or to interview someone in careers you are interested in.
- Make a short list. Once you have done your research and talked to people in professions, narrow your list of majors to pursue. Often there are many majors you can select from to get to a chosen career or area of interest.
Ode to the Undeclared Major
According to the US Dept. of Education, nearly 1/3 of college students change their major at least once during their college career. (https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018434.pdf) Many universities or colleges recognize you may not be ready to declare a major when you start as a freshman. Often you do not have to declare a major until sometime in your sophomore year. There are a few universities that don’t offer “undeclared” as an option. You will know which colleges require majors from their websites and applications.
Take the Find My Spark survey in GuidedPath. Use it to learn more about your personality and preferences. Use the list of majors or careers to explore professions in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
The Washington Post recently published an article on choosing a college major titled “The most consequential, and least informed, decision that college students make.” The crux of the article is that major selection is often influenced by unimportant, or seemingly random, unrelated factors. Additionally, some studies show as many as 50% of freshman enter college without having declared a major and up to 75% of students will change their major at least once before graduating. Theoretically, your major will determine the course of your career and consequently your life. That’s a lot of indecision related to such a critical choice.
You’ll spend a great amount of time considering what college you will attend. You can use steps from that same process to determine what major suits you best.
- Assess yourself
There are many tools available to help you think about career and major choices. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a classic personality assessment that can help point you in a career or major direction. You may have taken this at school, but you can find variations of the assessment online.
YouScience is another great tool that measures your interests as well as your aptitudes. Knowing what you like and what you are innately “good at” can help you determine the best fit for your major and career. Ask you college counselor if they use YouScience. If not, you can take the test yourself for a fee by going to their website.
- Prioritize your likes and dislikes
Think of your current classes. What classes or assignments do you enjoy and which ones do you loath? Do you love diving into writing, or creative projects? Do you prefer assignments that have strict parameters? Do you like crunching numbers, researching a new topic, building an argument to support your opinion, analyzing works of literature? List out some of your likes and dislikes related to your classes.
- Gather Information
The Occupational Outlook Handbook is an amazing resource published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides information on career trends, salaries, growth prospects, required education, and even day-to-day responsibilities.
You should also talk to the adults in your life – parents, friends’ parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, neighbors, etc. Ask them what they like about their jobs, what their college major was, and how they landed in their current position – their answers may surprise you.
- Do “Career Visits”
Shadow a person in a career you are considering (a day in the life) or do an internship. These are chances to “try-on” a job or career field. You can also conduct an “informational interview” with someone in a job you admire. Ask questions about their college and career path. How did they get their current role? Did their career follow a straight path or take an unexpected turn?
You want to find a major that maximizes your joy of learning. Ideally your classes will drive your desire to ask questions and learn more, while your assignments will be a rewarding challenge. Some students may find the right fit on the first try, others will adjust course during college or even after. Thinking about these choices now will set you up for success.
The Find My Spark survey in GuidedPath can get you started thinking about majors and careers, as well as what type of college may be a good fit. Take the Find My Spark, or other surveys like YouScience, and review the results with your counselor and parents.