Choosing a college major is exciting—but a little scary. After all, a student’s major choice will dictate much of what happens in the following four years and possibly for the rest of their lives. That’s why it’s so important to choose thoughtfully: students need to think about it from all angles to be sure that their major will serve them well both during college and after they graduate. To help, we’ve put together a list of five important things for a student to consider when choosing their college major.
1. START WITH YOU
A student’s college major is a huge part of their lives, both during college and beyond. And that’s why it’s crucial that students base their major pick on who they are: mentally, intellectually, and emotionally.
Students should think about their interests first and foremost. Do they enjoy tinkering and fixing things? Maybe they should consider Engineering. Do they love learning about the people who came before them and how they shaped the world as it is today? History might be a good choice. Are they deeply involved in student government? They might want to try Political Science.
But it’s not that simple: beyond interest and involvement, students should consider their aptitude for a subject. It’s great for a student to challenge themselves with their coursework, but if they’re going to devote four years—and a future career—to a subject, they should feel confident in their ability to understand it and dig deep into it. For example, just because a student loves nature, they might not excel in an Environmental Science major if they struggled in Biology class.
2. EXPLORE OUT-OF-SCHOOL EXPERIENCES
A college major isn’t just about the classes a student will take. What they study in school will likely change what they spend their career doing, so it’s important for students to explore experiences outside of school to give them a sense of what it would be like to have a career in a given field. Hands-on learning opportunities can help prospective students understand which majors might be a good match for them.
There are many ways to get this type of experience. Informational interviews are a great way to get other people’s perspectives on careers in specific fields. Or students can try to experience these careers first-hand, either by job shadowing, volunteering, or completing internships.
3. CONSIDER THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE MAJOR
The idea of a major can be very different from the reality of a major. That doesn’t mean a student should reject a major just because it has a requirement or two that the student isn’t excited about. But it does mean they should research the program to see what’s expected of them. If more than a few courses don’t grab the student, it might be time for them to rethink their major choice.
Of course, each school will have different requirements for a major, but if a student checks out the website for their first choice school, they should be able to get a sense of what’s generally required for a specific major.
4. REVIEW THE SALARIES FOR CAREERS CONNECTED TO THAT MAJOR
Money isn’t everything—but it is something. Before picking a major, It can be valuable for prospective and current college students to know which majors are more or less likely to lead to a high salary. Students who have an idea of what they’ll make after college can get a jump start on budgeting for things like graduate school. Plus, they can decide if pursuing a specific major is worth the financial trade-off.
The differences in salary among majors are pretty stark. The website PayScale provides some statistics for college grads who’ve been out of school between zero and five years and whose highest degree is a Bachelor’s. Students who majored in Math and Computer Science had a median starting salary of $68,893, while students who majored in Education had a median salary of $37,426. Even if it doesn’t end up affecting their decision, at the very least, it’s important for students to know those numbers before making their choice.
5. FACTOR IN THE POSSIBILITY OF GRAD SCHOOL
When a college student intends to go to graduate school, certain majors may be more ideal than others. For example, if a student knows they want to get an advanced degree in Journalism, they’ll want to have a major that allows them to take lots of relevant courses to show off on their grad school applications, so something like Communications or Writing might be appropriate.
Another example: it may surprise students that aspiring doctors shouldn’t major in a subject that’s too difficult and could negatively affect their GPAs for medical school applications.