Picking the Right College Major: Keys to Understanding Options

girl sitting at table with books spread out trying to decide college major

We are the only species on the planet that stresses about the future. Humans put so much weight on results and outcomes that the pressure to achieve can become intense. Our obsession with achievement often starts early in life and choosing an area of focus in college can become one of the most stressful times in our young adult lives. Knowing that this one decision can have a life-long impact significantly heightens the pressure of choosing the right college major.

Haste Makes Waste

Selecting a college major can be quite intimidating. This stems from the fact that it often determines one’s career path, possibly, and income level. Reaction to such pressure may vary from one child to another but most kids are rushed into a decision. This approach points to the high rate of college students who switch majors. About 80% of students in the U.S. end up changing their majors at least once and more than half of these students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career.

Students who pick a major that doesn’t match their interest and abilities are less likely to graduate on time and end up incurring more expenses than what was originally planned. According to a study conducted by New York Federal Reserve Bank, a vast number of college graduates land in jobs that are not related to their college majors, contributing to the increasing underemployment rate. This may mean that the investment placed on attaining a higher education isn’t fully utilized.

What Brought These Kids Here?

A number of factors come into play as to why students are picking the wrong college major. Financial concerns top the list. Pursuing higher education can be very costly and most students end up with huge debts. Add these debts to the ever-increasing cost of living and the need to get a job that is financially rewarding becomes more pressing. Due to this, parents unwittingly pressure their children towards a particular major.

Educational Institutions systematically contribute to this issue as well. About 20 to 50% of college entrants are undecided on what major to take, but most students are encouraged to choose their major in their first year. While there are students who seem to know what career path they wish to take, adolescents at this point in their life lack the proper resources and experience that guarantees objective decision-making. Most students also carry the pre-conceived notion that they need to be good at something in order to succeed. This causes the students to select a school based on the institution’s passing rate or choose a college that focuses on a specialization rather than what would be the best fit for them.

Smiling Girl Holding Books, Picking The Right College Major

Benefits of Pausing at the Crossroads

Choosing a college major is like coming to a fork in the road. Before choosing one path, here are 9 tips to help you (or your kids) pause and understand all options.

  1. Begin with the question “What am I good at? Having an inventory of ones skills and abilities will help in answering this question. Tune out the pressure and tune in to a field you are comfortable with.
  2. Take online personality tests and future employment assessments. If you are having a hard time answering the above question, there are available tools online that can help prune your choices.
  3. Research jobs that reflect your interests, skills, and abilities. Are you interested in working around kids but dislike the confines of a classroom? Maybe you would like to consider a career path around being a youth counselor. It all boils down to a comprehensive inventory of your skillsets and abilities.
  4. Use the summer to explore internships or other job opportunities. We learn more about ourselves in practice than in theory. Trying things out allows you the chance to test the water first before diving in to a specific career path.
  5. Seek the help of older people. Talk to your parents and seek their advice on what they see as your strengths and abilities. Check if there is someone in your family who is in the field that you are interested in. Ask for their input and learn from their experience.
  6. Do not rush. If undecided, take general courses first. Use your freshmen year to try things out. Join clubs that match your interests and take note of which classes you find most engaging. This should offer clues on what career path you may take.
  7. Do not limit yourself. Pick a major that allows you a wide range of options. If you want a major that has a specialization, you can always add a minor. This gives you a wider berth to steer your career with. Most employers also see this as an indicator of a potential employee’s attitude towards learning.
  8. Speak with college counselors. Most colleges and universities offer this assistance to students having a hard time deciding on their majors. College and career counselors are trained in helping students identify the right career path.
  9. Go outside of your comfort zone and try studying abroad. Studying or working abroad can teach you how to better manage finances, help you meet new people and see new ways of doing things. Working or studying abroad offers a refreshing and exciting opportunity and just may help you find your true calling.

A Parent’s Role in the Process

Parents offer a vital role in this process. They are essential in the successful transitioning of their kids from being in a sheltered home and community to a more challenging and exciting college environment.  Most parents find it difficult to let go of the rein and accept that their kids are beginning to establish their independence. This can cause friction and stress for both parents and the child. Parents should always keep expectations in check and make sure that they are not exerting pressure on their child’s decisions. The main focus is to help the kids find their true calling and usher them into a new world of exciting possibilities.

About the Author

Josh Miles is a St. Petersburg/Tampa based writer who studied Business Management and Marketing at the University of South Florida. He believes that time spent with good friends and a connection with nature are keys to a healthy and happy life. In his free time, you will find him exercising, listening to music, or playing video games with friends.
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