How to Choose the Best College Major for You: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself
For many people, choosing a college major is the first step in choosing a career. Some grow up knowing that they want to become a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or an artist. They then choose the major which matches these career goals. Others have such a myriad of interests it's hard to know which career they’ll end up in and therefore it's difficult to narrow things down to even two majors.
Here are 6 questions to ask yourself as you work to understand what is the best major for you, and which major, out of the hundreds, will best support what you want to do in the future.
6 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Write down every topic you’ve ever found interesting. Then look at course offerings in different majors. What major do these topics correspond to?
When I say anything, I mean anything. Write about anything that you’ve ever been curious about, had interest in, wondered about, or went home and Googled on your own. What topics do you want to learn more about?
How are ants able to carry so much more than their bodyweight? How are bridges built? What makes a protest successful? How are country borders determined? How do you know your genetic susceptibility to different cancers? What factors can increase the value of a house? There are an infinite number of topics you may be curious about. Start by just word-vomiting them all down on paper.
Once you’ve written out the topics that you think are interesting, look up different course offerings at different universities you’re interested in (or the university you’ve already picked). Read the class descriptions and see which ones overlap with the interests you’ve written down.
Next, highlight every topic that matches with a particular major in different colors. By the end of this, one or two colors (majors) should be standing out with the greatest number of highlights. What are they? Are they similar or entirely different? Do you have a gut reaction to one of these majors?
2. What are your favorite kinds of books to read?
If you love nonfiction, maybe history is the right major for you. If you love reading fiction, maybe you want to major in creative writing. If you love cookbooks, maybe you want to go to school to become a chef. If you love reading newspapers or current events, maybe you want to major in journalism or political science. If you hate reading all together, maybe a major in finance is the way to go.
Also if reading isn’t your thing, think about your other hobbies or interests. Do they correspond with a certain major? Maybe you love watching YouTube videos and a media or cinematography major could be a great fit for you. Maybe you love learning about art and an art history degree would serve you well. Maybe your favorite hobby is to go hiking. Perhaps a major in botany or biology would be a good fit.
3. In what areas do you excel?
What subjects did you enjoy the most during high school? What homework did you do right away?
We all have natural abilities in some subject areas or in some skill sets. For some, math comes easier. For others, writing is a natural talent.
Think about what subjects or classes you truly enjoyed during k-12. Maybe you always looked forward to government or you couldn't wait for Spanish class. Think about the classes where the assignments never stressed you out, you did the homework right away, and you enjoyed the readings and projects. You might surprise yourself. Maybe you always thought that math was your thing but when you sit down and think about it you realize that science classes were the ones you were always most excited for.
What classes have you gotten the best grades in? What classes have seemed to breeze by? Which classes did you never stress about? Or which did you stress over because you wanted to produce perfect, quality work?
You don’t have to major in what comes easiest to you, but it can be a good indicator of what you enjoy.
4. Talk to your family, friends, and teachers. What do they think you’re passionate about? Where do they think you excel?
Sometimes it's hard to tease out your own passions or your own skills. It’s helpful to talk to others who know you well and see where they think your skills and passions lie.
Maybe you never have thought of yourself as a good writer but all of your family and friends tell you that is where you excel. Maybe you’ve never thought that you’re particularly talented at math but your friends and family marvel at how well you can compute numbers in your head. Teachers can be an especially helpful resource to talk to because they can see both your passion and your skill shine through in various assignments. You can also talk to your teachers about potential careers with different majors that you’re considering.
5. Do you already have a career goal? Do you need a certain major to help you get there?
Sometimes, a certain career goal will lend itself to a certain major. If you want to be a doctor, you’ll need to be on a pre-law track. If you want to be a teacher, you should major in education. If you have a few different careers in mind or you’re not sure which major aligns with a career you’re interested in, don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are in the field you want to enter and talk to them about their educational background.
People love to feel as though they have “made it.” Many people love to talk about their background and their path to success. In the worst case scenario you don’t get a response or you’re told they don’t have time to talk. But most of the time, people are willing to have a conversation and provide advice regarding major choices, minor choices, university choices, and even general career advice.
6. Think about practicality
Money isn’t everything but it is an important consideration. We all want enough money to live comfortably and provide for ourselves and our family. Whether or not a certain major can transform into a financially lucrative career is something that should be considered.
Additionally, you’ll want to consider the cost of attending school for a certain major. If you know you need to stay in-state due to financial constraints, and there are no in-state schools that offer a certain major, you may need to reconsider. Maybe your dream school doesn’t have the exact major you want but a school of a similar caliber does. These are also important factors to think about. By expanding your horizons you may uncover a unique major you hadn’t even considered before.
It’s also important to consider if college is the right option for you. If you’ve gone through all of the above questions and still nothing is coming to mind, perhaps spending four years learning about a subject you’re not passionate about isn’t the best choice. College is not the only choice which has the potential to prepare you for a lucrative career. There are trade schools and entrepreneurship opportunities abound which may be a more rewarding (and enjoyable) opportunity.
If you know you want to go to college, and know where you want to go to college, but are really still stuck on what to major in, ask professors if they’d be willing to let you sit in on a few classes to get a feel for certain majors. While you’re sitting in on classes, talk to current students. Try to inquire if most students are happy, if they feel confident in their major choice, and if they are enjoying their classes and the professors teaching them. Firsthand experience from others who have gone through similar experiences is always advantageous.
Choosing a major is hard and although it's nice to have an idea before you start school, it's not a necessity. It's okay to take a semester to experiment with different classes in different subject areas and see what you enjoy best. Take a deep breath, think rationally, and don’t be afraid to pursue your passion.