Lesson Eight: Choosing a College Major

Lesson Summary and Objectives

Lesson eight teaches you how to choose a college major. This lesson also covers how you can change your major and select a future career field based on a particular major.

Objective One

Inform students about the selection process for choosing a college major.

Objective Two

Encourage students to pursue the right major and college based on educational needs and future career interests.

Objective Three

Provide students with resources to confidently choose a college major.

Before you get started…

We know that choosing a college major can be overwhelming. But have no fear! Your choice of major does not mean you are locked in to a specific career for the rest of your life.

That said, you WILL spend a lot of time studying whatever subject you choose. So, here’s what you need to know about college majors before you commit.

What is a college major?

A major in college is a specialized area of study. Beyond general college requirements, a major requires that you take a group of courses in a specific subject of your choosing such as Chemistry, Comparative Literature, or Political Science. At some schools you can even design your own major that combines one or more subjects.

How important is your college major?

The major you choose will neither predict nor guarantee your future. Many graduates find jobs that have nothing to do with what they studied in college. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average twenty-something year old switches jobs once every three years and the average person changes career fields two or three times in their lifetime.

If you intend to earn a professional degree (like an MD) after college, you will need certain courses, or prerequisites, under your belt. But many future doctors major in non-science related fields.

When do I declare a major?

Typically, students declare a major sophomore or junior year. However, the answer varies across schools and programs. Some colleges may ask you to list your expected major on your college application although “undecided” is usually an option.

If you are interested in a major that requires a lot of classes, or classes that are limited to students in that major, then it is better to declare early. Some majors demand a strictly regimented order of courses, and if you fall behind, you may have to extend your college stay by one or two semesters.

Can I change my major?

Definitely. One of the most exciting aspects of college life is that it introduces you to new subjects and fosters new passions. You might enter undergrad enjoying physics but discover a burgeoning love for political science. However, keep this in mind: Every major has requisite coursework. Some require you to take introductory courses before you move into the more advanced classes. Also, some classes are offered in the fall but not in the spring, or vice versa. If you change your major late in the game, it may take more than the traditional four years to earn a degree.

Minors and Double Majors

If one field of study doesn’t satisfy your intellectual appetite, consider a minor. A minor is similar to a major in that it’s an area of academic concentration. The only difference is that a minor does not require as many classes.

Some undergrads with a love of learning and an appetite for punishment choose to pursue two majors, often in totally different subjects. A double major provides you with an understanding of two academic fields. It allows you to become familiar with two sets of values, views and vocabularies. That said, it also requires you to fulfill two sets of requirements and take twice as many required classes. You won’t have as many opportunities to experiment or take classes outside those two fields.

While a minor or a double major might make you more marketable, both professionally and for graduate study, both are time—and energy—intensive. Most students find that one major is more than enough.

Learn more about choosing a college major by watching the video below.
How to Choose a College Major: Consider the following factors when selecting a major.

Career Prep
Choose a major because it will prepare you for a specific career path or advanced study. Maybe you already know that you want to be a nurse, a day trader, a physical therapist, or a web developer. Before you declare, take a class or two in the relevant discipline, check out the syllabus for an advanced seminar, and talk to students in the department of your choice. Make sure you’re ready for the coursework required for the career of your dreams.

Earning Potential
Future earning potential is worth considering—college is a big investment, and while college can pay you back in many ways beyond salary, this can be a major factor for students who are paying their own way or taking out loans. According to PayScale.com, the majors that lead to the highest salaries include just about any type of engineering, actuarial mathematics, computer science, physics, statistics, government, and economics. Keep your quality of life in mind, too—that six-figure salary may not be worth it if you’re not happy at the office.

Subjects You Love
Some students choose a major simply because they love the subject matter. If you love what you’re studying, you’re more likely to fully engage with your classes and college experience, and that can mean better grades and great relationships with others in your field. If your calling is philosophy, don’t write it off just because you’re not sure about graduate school, or what the job market holds for philosophers. Many liberal arts majors provide students with critical thinking skills and writing abilities that are highly valued by employers.

Undecided? Explore your interests.
If you truly have no idea what you want to study, that’s okay—many schools don’t require students to declare a major until sophomore year. That gives you four semesters to play the field. Make the most of any required general education courses—choose ones that interest you. Talk to professors, advisors, department heads, and other students. Find an internship off campus. Exploring your interests will help you find your best fit major—and maybe even your ideal career.

Research college majors to learn more about your options. Here are some resources to get you started:

CollegeChoice; CollegeBoard; PrepScholar; MyDegreeGuide

Once you have a major in mind, research colleges and universities that offer this program of study and identify your top three schools.

For support with choosing a college major, contact outreach@fulfillmentlv.org.

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