How to Pick a College Major: 6 Practical Steps
It is estimated that anywhere from 20% to 50% of students enter college undecided about their major. And, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), around 80% of college students switch majors at least once before graduating, and many of them change majors as many as six times!
Needless to say, it’s okay to enter college undecided and/or change to a different major after picking one.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should wait until toward the end of your sophomore year of college, which is when most colleges and universities expect their undergraduates to declare a major, before you start to think about this majorly important matter. Just like when building a college list, deciding on a major requires lots of time and research.
It’s true that changing college majors at least once before you get your hands on a degree is normal — again, as mentioned earlier, a vast majority of students trying to earn a bachelor’s do it.
However, choosing a major very well can increase your chances of sticking with it until the end, which can keep the cost and the time spent in college to a minimum. After all, each college major change could add a semester or two to one’s college career and up to $20,000 in college costs.
Want to be in and out of college in four years as planned? Then don’t stop reading now!
Identify Your Skills, Talents, and Passions
Before you assess available college majors, assess yourself first. What can you do? What do you like to do? What inspires you? What do you believe in? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
In your freshman and sophomore years of high school, you put so much thought and care into choosing which extracurricular activities to get involved with. Well, choosing a college major is just like choosing extracurriculars — you also have to consider your skills, talents, interests and passions.
Choosing the wrong major is unlikely if you take your abilities into account.
This does not mean, however, that you should overlook areas and specialties where you lack knowledge and skills just yet.
College, first and foremost, is a place of learning, and you will be able to build those up in your studies — if there’s a particular talent or ability you would like to acquire and master, college is the perfect place for it.
The college major selection process can be simplified, too, by considering pursuits that leave you feeling alive and happy — after college, why not do what you love and get paid doing it, too?
However, always keep in mind that interests and passions can come and go over time, which is why you should not feel frustrated and give up just in case the moment comes when you feel that the college major you are trying to complete seems like it no longer aligns with what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Having a hard time with the self-assessment task for the purpose of figuring out which major is right for you? No worries — you can always count on your family and friends, who may know you better than you know yourself.
Get Advice From Counselor or Academic Advisor
In some instances, the task of picking a college major doesn’t start in college but in high school. This is most especially true if the four-year institution you wish to attend or the academic program you wish to enroll in requires all applicants to declare a major during the application process.
Your high school counselor is someone who can help you with practically every personal and academic decision — he or she can help you determine which college major is right for you, not just write you a recommendation letter.
But it’s not too late to seek expert advice if you have already started college.
In college, there is someone that degree-seeking students may approach in order to obtain assistance with just about anything that has something to do with their degrees, courses and even school regulations: the academic advisor.
Needless to say, he or she is someone you can set up an appointment with to discuss college major selection-related matters.
Academic advisors agree that you should approach them whether you are undecided as to which college major to pick or if you are no longer happy or enthusiastic with your current one. They also agree that the following can help you in the search for the perfect major for you to declare and commit to:
- Attend events in the departments you are interested in
- Talk to other students in the college major
- Meet and greet the faculty members
Of all the pieces of advice an academic advisor can give you, nothing can be more helpful and valuable than you should pick a major based on something you care about. It doesn’t have to be something that you are best at — it just has to be something that you are willing to invest time and energy in and strive to be good at.
Most students who step foot in their college’s career services office want to get some help in securing internships. Well, you can also visit yours in order to explore career options, thus allowing you to have an idea of the best major for you.
Compare College Majors by Unemployment Rate
According to a UCLA survey, nearly 90% of all incoming first-year college students say that they are going to college in order to be able to get a better job after graduation.
Well, they are not wrong in assuming that a college degree can boost their job marketability. According to NCES, after all, the employment rate for individuals with a bachelor’s degree is 86%. On the other hand, the employment rate for people whose highest educational attainment is a high school diploma is 69% only.
If your primary reason for going to college today is to make sure that you won’t end up employed in the future, then consider steering clear of the following majors with the highest unemployment rates:
|COLLEGE MAJOR||UNEMPLOYMENT RATE|
|Geological and geophysical engineering||8.10%|
|Computer programming and data processing||5.60%|
|Composition and rhetoric||5.40%|
|Film video and photographic arts||5.00%|
|Industrial and organizational psychology||4.30%|
|Mining and mineral engineering||4.30%|
|Drama and theater arts||4.20%|
|Cognitive science and biopsychology||4.10%|
|Interdisciplinary social sciences||3.90%|
|Commercial art and graphic design||3.70%|
|General social sciences||3.70%|
|Advertising and public relations||3.60%|
In some instances, it’s not enough that you pick the most employable college major if being jobless is a nightmare. It’s also a good idea to opt for a major that will allow you to focus on a broader discipline as it will allow you to penetrate many different related fields after graduation.
Planning on establishing a business to be your own boss rather than working for someone else?
Then choose a college major to declare not according to employment rate as it’s absolutely meaningless for any college student with entrepreneurial dreams just like you. Instead, when deciding on a major, focus more on your skills and passions necessary for a booming money-making venture.
Estimate Future Earnings For Selected Major
Some college students choose a major according to the employability rate. Meanwhile, others pick a major according to how much money it will allow them to earn every month.
Before anything else, it’s important to note that individuals who have a bachelor’s degree, no matter the chosen and completed college major, generate 75% more money than if they had a high school diploma only.
So, in other words, you are guaranteed to make more simply by earning a college degree.
College is expensive. Period.
And that is why considering return on investment (ROI) not only when choosing a college but also deciding on a major to complete is both sensible and practical — no one wants to struggle financially, especially after paying all those tuitions, student fees, textbooks, room and board and others in exchange for a college diploma.
College majors differ from one another in many different ways, including the paycheck they can command. Based on a CNBC report, the following are the best-paying majors five years after graduating from college:
|COLLEGE MAJOR||MEDIAN SALARY|
On the other hand, the following college majors are some of the worst-paying ones five years after earning a degree:
|COLLEGE MAJOR||MEDIAN SALARY|
|Family and consumer sciences||$32,000|
|General social sciences||$34,000|
|Early childhood education||$36,000|
|Theology and religion||$36,600|
|Miscellaneous biological science||$38,000|
|Leisure and hospitality||$38,000|
While money is an important deciding factor when it comes to choosing a college major, it should not be the only one you should take into account. There is no point in completing a high-paying major if you are not very good at it or you absolutely abhor being a part of a related industry.
Choose the Right College
After you are 100% certain as to which major you would indicate on the Common App or Coalition App or by the end of your sophomore year of college, it’s a good idea to research which four-year institution is best known for the major of your liking — some colleges and universities are well-known for certain majors.
One of the quickest ways to determine which school you should add to your college list is to check out college rankings. While it’s true that college rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, they can help make the college selection process so much easier, most especially if you are torn between two seemingly similar institutions.
In most instances, colleges and universities with a dedicated college or school (e.g., College of Business at the University of X or University of Y’s Business School) are some of the best in a particular academic program or college major.
With the right choice, the entire college experience could become a more rewarding and fulfilling experience.
For instance, graduating high schoolers who are very much interested in majoring in business or related fields may consider the following colleges and universities:
|Stanford University||Stanford, California|
|Harvard University||Cambridge, Massachusetts|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Northwestern University||Evanston, Illinois|
|University of Chicago||Chicago, Illinois|
|Columbia University||New York City, New York|
|Dartmouth College||Hanover, New Hampshire|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Cambridge, Massachusetts|
|University of California – Berkeley||Berkeley, California|
|Cornell University||Ithaca, New York|
|Duke University||Durham, North Carolina|
|Yale University||New Haven, Connecticut|
|University of Michigan – Ann Arbor||Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|University of Virginia||Charlottesville, Virginia|
|University of Texas – Austin||Austin, Texas|
|New York University||New York City, New York|
|University of California – Los Angeles||Los Angeles, California|
|Carnegie Mellon University||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|Indiana University – Bloomington||Bloomington, Indiana|
On the other hand, college-bound teenagers who are thinking about becoming registered nurses one day may consider applying to the following institutions popular among many nursing majors:
|University of Missouri – Columbia||Columbia, Missouri|
|University of Iowa||Iowa City, Iowa|
|Southeast Missouri State University||Cape Girardeau, Missouri|
|University of Utah||Salt Lake City, Utah|
|Tennessee Technological University||Cookeville, Tennessee|
|Truman State University||Kirksville, Missouri|
|Missouri Southern State University||Joplin, Missouri|
|Sonoma State University||Rohnert Park, California|
|University of Louisiana – Monroe||Monroe, Louisiana|
|Brigham Young University – Provo||Provo, Utah|
|Nicholls State University||Thibodaux, Louisiana|
|University of Tennessee – Chattanooga||Chattanooga, Tennessee|
|University of Louisiana at Lafayette||Lafayette, Louisiana|
|Emporia State University||Emporia, Kansas|
|University of Nevada – Las Vegas||Las Vegas, Nevada|
|University of Southern Indiana||Evansville, Indiana|
|University of Kansas||Lawrence, Kansas|
|Northwestern Oklahoma State University||Alva, Oklahoma|
|Metropolitan State University||St. Paul, Minnesota|
|California State University – Sacramento||Sacramento, California|
Consider Required Commitment Level
How much time, energy and effort would you be willing to devote to college in order to be able to earn a degree? Having a definitive answer to this question can give you an idea of whether or not a particular major is right for you.
Some college majors are simply more difficult than the rest. For instance, there is no denying that those in the STEM fields are some of the most challenging on the face of the planet. Still, a major’s difficulty level is subjective — a student who is very good in math may find a STEM major easy, while someone who is poor at it may not.
Below, you will come across some of the most difficult college majors and the estimated range of annual salary of those who have successfully completed them and are working in related fields:
|COLLEGE MAJOR||SALARY RANGE|
|Chemistry||$73,230 to $94,270|
|Mathematics||$83,660 to $111,030|
|Economics||$73,560 to $111,030|
|Biology||$46,340 to $84,400|
|Geology||$50,630 to $93,800|
|Philosophy||$65,810 to $76,160|
|Finance||$76,270 to $89,330|
|Physics||$79,300 to $129,850|
|Computer science||$103,590 to $151,150|
|Engineering||$108,540 to $137,330|
On the other hand, the following are some of the easiest college majors around:
|English||$62,870 to $142,170|
|Education||$55,350 to $107,680|
|Religious studies||$33,530 to $107,680|
|Social work||$38,520 to $89,880|
|Sociology||$62,810 to $107,680|
|Communications||$49,300 to $185,950|
|History||$45,710 to $126,930|
|Liberal arts||$86,200 to $185,950|
|Creative writing||$49,300 to $142,170|
|Humanities||$49,420 to $121,220|
When determining whether the college major you are planning on declaring is easy or hard, do your homework carefully and take the following into account:
- Requirements in order to be accepted into the program
- Number of hours spent in classes and labs
- Number of hours spent studying outside the classroom
- Grading policies or GPA requirements
What Should Your College Major Be?
Choosing the right major is one of the most important life decisions of a college student — not only will it allow you to earn a bachelor’s degree as it’s a requirement for undergraduate students to complete but also open doors for you into the workforce and pave the way for a high-paying and satisfying career.
But like choosing a college, deciding on which major to declare and commit to isn’t easy.
With careful thought and consideration, however, you can make up your mind on a major that you will stick to until you are handed your college diploma, thus allowing you to avoid unnecessary additional semesters and costs.
Above, we talked about some of the steps to take on how to pick a college major — keep them in mind, and it won’t take long before you get to narrow down your literally hundreds of selections into a more manageable list and decide on one that goes very well with your skills, talents and passions as well as your career goals.
But don’t forget that changing majors is always an option. If at any time throughout college you felt that you have decided on the wrong major, feel free to pick another one — it’s better to act now than be unhappy for the rest of your life.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.