It is an unfortunate reality that the higher education system asks teenagers to pay thousands of dollars in tuition and commit to a subject that will influence the course of their careers. Accordingly, many high school graduates feel overwhelmed when tasked with choosing what to major in. This makes sense given their youth and the fact that new college students have likely had little exposure to most of the subjects offered by universities. High schools rarely teach classes in engineering or sociology, for example. So how should you approach the big question of what to study? Read on to discover strategies for determining which major best aligns with your interests, priorities, and goals.
Use general education requirements to explore
Most American universities require that students take a breadth of different subjects known as “gen-eds” in addition to focusing on one or two majors or minors. These classes cover areas such as the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics, and foreign languages. Use the requirements as a vehicle for exploration. Take risks and challenge yourself rather than playing to your strengths. Interested in but intimidated by computer science? Sign up for the intro-level class! Some schools offer the option to take a class pass/fail to incentivize students to branch out without hurting their GPAs. Even if your school does not have this policy, you should still consider trying something new. One bad grade won’t tank your GPA, and you won’t know if you like something until you try it.
Can’t choose just one? Minor or double major!
If you have multiple academic interests, or if what you would love to study doesn’t necessarily align with your professional goals, you should consider declaring a minor or double major. This way, you can pursue your plurality of passions without compromising your future. Given how expensive college can be, it would be remiss to suggest that you should not consider career options and earning potential when deciding what to study. The good news is, most programs make space for students to pursue two or three fields if they so choose. Work with academic advisors and mentors to balance your intellectual passions and career aspirations to make the most of your four years.
Research, research, research!
Although it may feel like college will never end, those four years go by faster than you think. When graduation rolls around, you will have to use your degree, internships, and extracurriculars to secure gainful employment. This means that you should seriously consider what you want to be when you “grow up” well before senior spring. As you decide what to major in, be sure to research career options available to graduates in various fields. Google for data relating to the average starting salary, projected job growth, and overall satisfaction for any type of position.
Go on LinkedIn to see what paths people took to obtain jobs that interest you, and don’t be afraid to reach out and see if they would be willing to speak with you about their career trajectory. If you ask politely, the worst you may hear back is that they are too busy at the moment. You may, on the other hand, land an invaluable mentor and insights into what it takes to score your dream job. Get in touch with your school’s career counseling office to see what advice they can offer you based on your professional and academic interests. They will be able to help you locate internships and plan an academic program that meets your needs. You may even learn about a career path that you didn’t know existed!
In summary, college is the perfect time to explore. Gen-ed requirements offer a wonderful opportunity to experiment, branch out, and take risks early on. When the time comes to declare a major, however, you should be methodical in your approach. Choose a subject or combination of subjects that you will not only enjoy studying for four years but that will additionally set you up for career satisfaction and financial security. It can be difficult to know which path is best at such a young age, but if you do your research and reflect on your priorities, you will be able to make as good a decision as anyone. Research, network, intern, and study hard to see the best results.