How to choose a college major when you’re interested in everything
Feeling like you’re all over the map? Take these steps to narrow your focus and pick the best course of study for you.
It’s a question every would-be college student will ask at one point: “What should I major in?” Thing is, the answer might change—a few times.
So you graduated high school thinking your college major would be political science. Then you got to college and comparative literature became your jam—for a while, that is. Now you’re thinking law school. Or engineering. Or should you just go back to poli-sci? Or would throwing a dart at a list of majors help you decide best?
The clock is ticking; you need to decide what to major in. But how do you pick a major when your interests are all over the map?
Breathe. Many universities don’t require students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year, which means you have some time to do your research. The sooner you start to focus, the sooner you’ll find your path.
These steps can help you choose a college major.
Assess your interests
Start by reflecting and making a list of what you love learning about—as well as a list of what you’re definitely not interested in. “See if you can identify themes, particularly those of things you are interested in, to identify opportunities to grow that interest,” says Kelly Kennedy, a career counselor at the University of Virginia.
Need help? Tap into your campus career center. Many of these centers offer free self-assessment exams that can help you narrow your interests. Note: A number of colleges even offer quizzes online to help students choose their major. (Marquette University’s quiz and Loyola University Chicago’s quiz are available to the public online.) Some self-assessment exams even suggest potential career paths, says Rebecca Sparrow, executive director of career services at Cornell University.
Once a career counselor gets a better sense of your skills, personality, values, likes, and dislikes, they can tell you whether or not those traits match up well with the majors and careers you're considering.
Coursework: Once you’ve narrowed your options to three or four majors, it’s time to explore them. There are a number of ways to do this. Sparrow recommends looking at your school’s general education requirements—the coursework required to earn any degree at your college (some schools call these distribution requirements)—and deciding if these classes align with your interests.
Talk to the right people: Eyeing a major? Do an informational interview with a professor in that department, or sit in on one of the classes, says Stephanie Waite, senior associate director at Yale’s Office of Career Strategy.
You can also get exposure to a subject by reading a book that’s required in an introductory course, Waite suggests, or joining a student organization in that area.
For real-live insights, ask the career center to connect you with alumni in that field to find out what it’s like to work in the industry. “You’re not imposing,” Sparrow says. “People like to talk about their college experiences.” College seniors studying that major can also be good sources of information, she adds.
Think about life after college
In addition to previewing majors, study up on career prospects. You can use the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) to find out education requirements, salary information, and hiring projections for hundreds of occupations. Monster's career guides also offer valuable info on a wide range of jobs.
“Your research on salaries and job outlook, coupled with a complete inventory of who you are and what you enjoy doing, will serve as your guide [when choosing a major],” says Chris Posti, president of Pittsburgh-based College Grad Career Coaching.
Seek out an internship
In addition to offering assessment exams to help you determine the right major, a career services center can also show you how to put what you’d learn into action. “[Career services can help you] figure out the best way to leverage student activities and internships to enhance what you’re learning in the classroom,” Kennedy says.
That last bit about internships is especially important. “There’s no substitute for getting out there and trying out a field,” Waite says. An internship can give you valuable exposure to an industry and help you determine whether it’s a good fit for you.
Here’s the thing: You can get a job outside of your college major. Unless you’re pursing a super-specialized field (medicine, law, etc.), hiring managers aren’t going to be terribly hung up on your degree. When you first enter into the workplace, it’s much more about your skill set and desire to gain experience that will determine whether or not you get a particular job.
Could you use some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you’ll get practical career advice and job-search tips sent directly to your inbox. These are the kinds of lessons you won’t learn in college, but can make all the difference once you graduate to the real world.