Majorly Stressing Over Your Major?
If you are anticipating the start of your college experience you have likely spent the last year or so preparing; taking exams, writing essays, completing applications, filling out endless forms to fund your education, and patiently awaiting notification that you have been accepted to the college or university of your choice. Fall (or spring) semester finally rolls around and you are off—you have carefully outfitted your dorm room, figured out your meal plan and even managed to find the library and register for classes. Before long you will be asked the same question every new student is asked by their friends, family, and even the occasional stranger: What’s your major?
If you ask a group of toddlers what they want to be when they grow up, you are likely to get more answers than you can count, and if you wait an hour you are likely to get even more—firefighter, mermaid, a flower. Unfortunately, if you ask the typical college freshmen the same question you may get similar answers—firefighter, marine biologist, botanist. Close to 80% of incoming freshmen do not know what they intend to major in, and of those who do, approximately 50% will change majors at least once. The pressure to choose a major can be daunting, just last year you may have been attending pep rallies and debate meets and just a few months later are expected to make a decision that could affect the course of your entire professional career. The stress of selecting a major can be so cumbersome that some colleges and universities are delaying the choice until the second year, after a student has had a chance to explore and decide which areas are of interest. Just like any other major life choice, try to remain objective, consider the following tips when thinking about your major.
What are you interested in?
Prior to starting college you have spent the last 12 years learning. What is of particular interest to you? Try to clear your mind of careers and just focus on interests. Perhaps you loved reading and dissecting stories, or maybe you thrived with the logic of geometry—either of these areas could lead you to a major that you are satisfied with. One of the biggest mistakes individuals make when trying to determine a major is to think too far ahead and become distracted by potential salary concerns. In your early stages of planning try not to get distracted by the future; you are in college to learn and excel in a field, success in the job market will come with whatever major you choose. Even if the connection to a potential career is not evident, take time to explore different areas and keep your options open until you decide.
Think reasonably—know what you are getting into
Once you have narrowed down your choices, start to think about different career paths that may be available to you. Janice always wanted to be an elementary school teacher. She declared her major immediately and happily completed her coursework. During her final year she began student teaching at a local elementary school only to learn that she didn’t like working with children. Janice graduated with a degree in elementary education and never became a teacher. These “glitches” happen more often than you may realize, making it important to consider the type of person you are before you commit to a career path. If you aren’t a “people person,” maybe a career in nursing isn’t for you. In order to make an informed decision…
Talk to people who are in your field now
The job market changes rapidly, and the best way to get information is to talk to people who have recently graduated and are seeking jobs or those who have recently graduated and are in your area of interest. Try to find a job shadow, in which you can spend time seeing what a day in the life of your area of interest entails. You may be tempted to talk to your parents to see what their experiences were like but consider this: unless they reinvented themselves recently, their experience is extremely dated and likely not relevant to your circumstances. Take all the information you can, but remember that the most valuable information will be first hand accounts of what life is like in the career you want right now, not 20 years ago.
What if you have lots of interests?
You may be able to take your time and narrow your focus, but what if you simply cannot choose between two areas of interest? Most universities encourage students to declare a single major with a minor in a complementary field. Doing so typically allows a student to explore a secondary area of interest. A minor typically covers approximately half the amount of coursework as a major and strengthens the overall picture of a graduate—a journalism major with a minor in spanish, a business major with a minor in international relations. Some students elect to pursue a double or dual major. While the vernacular may change depending on the institution, typically a dual major consists of two degrees of study resulting in one degree while a double major typically is two areas of study with an end goal of two degrees. The reasons for pursuing a dual or double major are varied—some students know what specialty they hope to pursue and want to get the most of of the time they have in college, some students find areas beyond their initial major that are of particular interest and choose to continue along the path, some students enjoy the challenge. While having more than one major may look fancy on your resume, some employers may be left wondering why you chose a double major rather than pursuing a graduate degree. Whichever the reason, before you start piling on the majors, make sure that you are doing so with purpose, especially if it may affect your graduation timeline.
Most importantly, when considering your major, relax. Take some time to think about the things that you are good at, and use the resources at your disposal: college counselors, professors, friends and family.