Whether you are still in high school or in your freshman or sophomore year in college, you may be one of the millions of students that are currently undecided about what they should choose for a college major. While this can be an incredibly stressful situation, here are a few tips that will help make it easier to make the decision.
1. Real-World Experience Can Help You Choose a College Major
Whether you are still in high school or have started your college journey, finding a good internship, job, job shadowing or volunteering opportunity in your field is a great idea. This is going to let you see the ins and outs and ups and downs of a real job in the industry. If you are looking for an internship, you want to be sure that you find an internship that will give you real-experience – not just a chance to get lattes for the employees.
Getting experience is especially important in majors that are directly tailored to certain jobs and offer more specific training, such as pre-med and engineering. It’s easy to see a snippet of a job from the outside and believe that you would love it, but you should certainly do as much ‘test’ driving’ as you can before declaring a major.
Takeaway: Before you make the big decision, try out different areas of interest and do your best to focus on getting real-world-experience of what careers in that field may look like. If you are in high school it's great to get a head start on planning your career - check out high school internship opportunities here.
2. Try a Variety of Classes
Whether you are already leaning towards a certain major or are completely unsure, it is always helpful to keep an open mind and continue learning.
In high school, you may be able to audit or take classes at your local college. This can be a great way to help determine your interests, but also get a jump-start on your college education – especially if you can transfer the credits once you enroll in college.
If you are already in college, you have a huge variety of classes available to take. Trying out classes in different areas can be helpful, especially if you try to take classes that will also fulfill General Education requirements your college may have. This way you are trying out something new, but also maintaining your path to graduate on time – extending out beyond the typical four years is going to mean more tuition.
Takeaway: Getting exposure to new ideas and career paths might spark an interest and open some new doors for you to explore.
3. Your Dream Lifestyle May Impact Your College Major Decision
Step 1: Understand the Life you Want to Live
There is a lot of advice and debate about whether students should ‘follow their passion’ or ‘follow the money.’ This is a highly personal decision that is far from one-size fits all. However, as with most things in life, the answer is probably a bit of a balance. For every happy ‘starving artist’ out there, there is a financially successful person that feels unfulfilled and unhappy at their job. (By the way, we know the ‘starving artist’ analogy is quite often not true...we even wrote a blog about it here).
One way to answer this question for yourself is to figure out your dream lifestyle and how you think you can make it happen. Even writing in a journal or discussing your priorities and expectations with your parents, friends, guidance counselor or mentor can be helpful.
Step 2: Apply this to your Potential College Majors
Some careers may offer freedom, but be difficult to monetize, while other career paths may typically be more financially lucrative but demand long hours and less flexibility. We are not saying one is better than the other, just that you will want to find a career that is a good fit for your priorities.
For example, if you prioritize financial freedom, you may want to do some research on jobs that are in demand, have good growth prospects and high pay. If you are someone who values freedom and flexibility, research jobs that tend to offer these benefits. Think about your lifestyle – if your dream is to work full-time from home, for example, you probably don’t want to go to Dental School.
Takeaway: Make sure that the college major you pursue fits the lifestyle you envision for yourself. Think about money, freedom, energy and time, passion, quality of life, location and other factors of a potential career choice. Make sure that these match your priorities.
4. Make Fact-Based Decisions
Making a decision on a college major can be emotional – and that’s okay! There are a lot of variables and it can feel overwhelming. During these times, make sure you make good decisions that are well-grounded, fact-based and reasonable. While this doesn’t have to mean sacrificing a major that you are passionate about, this does mean aligning your expectations with facts.
For example, if you major in History, you should have an idea of what job prospects are for graduates in that field and how much you could expect to earn. Once again, we aren’t saying that you should only focus on money, but make sure you have a good financial plan in place after graduation. Like millions of Americans, you may have student debt to stay on top of once you graduate. Colleges should be able to provide information for you on how past cohorts from each major did after graduating with that degree.
Takeaway: You don’t need to limit your dreams based solely on a financial return on investment, but you should be realistic about the financial prospects in the field – it is always better to go in with your eyes open than be surprised and disappointed after graduation.
5. Don't Choose a College Major Because of Pressure
While most students may feel better about settling this question sooner rather than later, don’t let the pressure force you into a decision you aren’t comfortable with.
To put things in perspective: many people in the working world have successful and fulfilling careers that are not directly related to their degrees. There are so many intangible benefits from higher education that will serve you well across a vast array of jobs and industries. Also, the average worker in the US switches careers multiple times in their life.
Takeaway: Choosing a college major is a huge decision, but don’t think for a minute that if you ‘choose the wrong major’ it is an insurmountable obstacle to your happiness or career – it is a big, wide world with so many possibilities. Even if you think you didn’t nail it the first time, there will be many opportunities to get it right.
6. Pre-College Programs Are Designed to Help You Explore a College Major
If you are in high school and trying to figure out what majors you might be interested in, great job in getting ahead of things! Your summers in high school are the perfect time to start exploring different interests and passions.
If you aren't familiar with pre-college summer programs, they are usually held on college campuses and range in length anywhere from one to several weeks. The level of academic intensity and how focused the program is will depend on the program you choose, but just know there are a wide variety of pre-college programs that are designed to help you explore college life and get an inside look at different college majors.
Pre college programs are available through JKCP and include programs in academics, art, business, cooking, esports, internships, leadership, medicine, sports & fitness, and STEM.
Top Tip: If you aren't sure what college majors you are interested in schedule a consult with one of the JKCP Program Advisers. They can discuss your interests, career aspirations, and help you find the best way to spend your summer to help you start exploring different passions.