The dos and donts of selecting a major in college

I received an interesting e-mail yesterday from a reader asking about what they should major in. The advice I gave was pretty simple. I suggested considering the options, and talking with an academic advisor. However, choosing a major is a big step, and one should consider financial implications when deciding what you are going to be educated in. Just be sure you don’t regret anything or miss out on classes and majors you wish you’d considered.

Do always think of future education. Too many people select majors as undergrads and then realize that they can’t actually get a job out of undergrad. When you select a major in Art History (for example, no offense to Art History majors) you should consider the fact that you may have to go to graduate school. My cousin graduated from a liberal arts college with a degree in U.S. History. He then realized that he couldn’t really be hired anywhere with that degree alone. He ended up working at Applebee’s for a while in order to finance his graduate school tuition. Had he thought ahead, he may have been more prepared to go to grad school. My girlfriend goes to Kenyon College, which is a great school, but it comes with a hefty price tag. She’s considering her options and factoring in the fact that she may have to go to grad school. As much as it would be great to be able to just get a great job out of undergrad, it’s not always the case. Financially, when you take student loans out, make sure you are thinking about where you’ll be 8 years down the road.

Do think about what interests you. Don’t simply choose a major because you think you’ll be able to get a job straight out of undergrad. While an English major may have to go to grad school to become a teacher or Law School, they at least did something they enjoyed in undergrad. College is supposed to be one of the greatest life experiences, so taking classes you hate, or being in a major just because your parents like it is not sensible at all. At first, I was really unsure about being a Business Major. It seemed like the sensible thing to do, but I found some of the general business classes to be very boring and pointless. If you like accounting, then that’s great. I personally hated it and it almost made me quit business. That being said, I stuck through the class, and now I’m taking marketing classes that fascinate me and I find very enjoyable. Always be prepared to take the good with the bad and don’t give up on any major simply because there’s one class you hate.

Do talk to people and ask questions before you dive into a major. It’s so basic, but so few people do it. Don’t just get one opinion. Ask your academic advisor about the major, the requirements, and potential job opportunities. Many schools also offer career advisors. Take advantage of the resources! If you know anyone who graduated with the degree you’re going for, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you simply take your parents’ word for it, you’re limiting yourself. Talk to other family members. Almost everyone has an opinion (trust me, my grandfather used to attempt to plan my life out in college); so don’t hesitate to find out what it is.

Do your research, and see what the job market outlook is like. If it looks like there’s going to be a labor surplus, and the average salary for someone with your degree or job is going down, you might want to reconsider. Once again, think about those college loans you may have. If you have taken out $100,000 to finance your education, you better get a job that can help you pay off the loan and live comfortably. There’s just no substitute for solid research.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Changing majors too many times is a bad thing, yes. However, if you change your major once (or even twice), that’s perfectly fine. In fact, many college students today end up changing their major at least once. If you hate everything about what you’re doing, then try something else. Remember, while making money and getting a good job is the ultimate goal of college, it’s also a time to learn, grow, and have fun. You can’t have fun if you’re a Chemistry major who hates science. If you take classes you’re interested in, your grades will improve, and you’ll be a much happier person.

Don’t just major in anything. This is so common among college students today, that it’s almost scary. Someone will go into college and take a bunch of random classes. They then will get bored of school, and just tell their advisor, “I’ve taken these classes, what kind of degree can I get?” College is supposed to be enjoyable, and if you are just taking classes for no reason and just trying to get out of college, you aren’t getting the full benefit. Remember my earlier post about how much classes cost you money. You are certainly wasting cash if you are just taking random classes in a random major. I am also willing to bet that you’ll end up getting a job you dislike, and then you’ll be one unhappy camper.

Bottom line: do your research, ask questions, look at what interests you, consider finances and the future, and have fun. If you do all that, I’m sure you’ll have a major you can be proud of. Of course you don’t have to just take my word for it, ask questions! Just make sure you don’t end up an angry undergrad.

Leave a Comment