I Have to Pick a Major -- Now What?
Peter Vogt MC Career Coach
August 10, 2009
Every time you’re on break from school, someone hits you with that most common question asked of college students: “What’s your major?”
For months, you’ve been able to get away with responses like “I’m not sure,” or “I’m keeping my options open.” But now — thanks to your school’s academic rules, your parents’ incessant nagging or even your own impatience — you’re forced to make a choice, and you don’t know what to do.
Thousands of college students around the country go through the same anxiety-producing experience every year, often around mid-semester when they have to choose their courses for the following semester (and they’ve already taken all their general or core courses).
Are you in the “I have to pick a major — now what?” mode? If so, don’t panic. If you’re like many college students, the major you select won’t have a huge impact on your future career anyway. But even if it will, there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself make a sound decision.
Meet with a Campus Career Counselor.
Your school’s career counselors know your institution’s majors well, and they have a good general sense of where those majors might take you with respect to your career. Perhaps more importantly, though, many campus career centers keep detailed statistics on the types of jobs their schools’ graduates have landed with various majors. Typically, these statistics appear in the career center’s placement report, which you can ask for and then read to find out where different majors might take you in the future.
Read Your Undergraduate Bulletin and Related Publications.
Maybe you don’t need to actually read the entire undergraduate bulletin, but at the very least, page through it and look at all the majors available at your institution. You never know when you’ll stumble upon one that really fits your interests.
If browsing your institution’s undergraduate bulletin sounds far too boring, stop by your school’s admissions office and ask for briefer major-related publications that might be available.
Talk to Professors and Students in Various Majors.
Start by asking your friends and acquaintances what they’re majoring in and why. What do these students like and dislike about their majors? And what can they tell you about the courses in their majors and the careers their majors might lead to?
Similarly, ask professors in various academic departments to briefly describe their majors. Tell them you’re interested in learning more about what previous students in the department have gone on to do, career-wise. Professors will gladly tell you in most cases, if you ask.
Check Out “What Can I Do with a Major in ______?” Materials.
There are lots of ways to answer the question, “What can I do with a major in _______?”. You can use the Major to Career Converter tool to get an initial sense of which majors lead to which types of careers.
Dozens of major-related books are available to you as well, often at your school’s main library or your campus career center’s library. VGM Career Horizons, for example, publishes several Great Jobs for _____ Majors books as well as the Opportunities in _________ Careers series.
Page Through Guides to College Majors.
Several publishers have developed books that offer extensive descriptions of various college majors and what careers those majors might lead to. JIST, for instance, offers The College Majors Handbook, which features information (based on a survey of some 150,000 college graduates) on 60 different majors. Ferguson Publishing, meanwhile, offers College Majors and Careers, which also describes 60 majors in detail.
There’s no need to fly blind when it comes to researching and then choosing a college major, especially in this day of the Internet and easily accessible information. The more you talk to knowledgeable people and read about various majors, especially those you know little or nothing about, the better chance you have of picking the one that best fits both your short-term needs and your long-term career goals.