It’s quite a hard decision to make - choosing a college major. According to a study conducted, sixty-one percent of graduates would have to change their majors if granted the chance to go back to school.
Today, many of you have to choose a major during the college application process. I realize this can be an overwhelming process; therefore, this guide.
Reading this guide will ensure you avoid mistakes that I have seen many students make. Before we get to the juicier bits, let’s get the basics out of the way.
What is a major?
First and foremost, you need to know what a major is. A major is your specialized area of study. My university, Georgia Tech, had nearly 100 different majors or minors that one could choose from across 6 different schools in the university. Phewww.
Choosing a major won’t guarantee your future, but it will play a part in shaping the person you eventually become. Anyway moving on. A bachelor’s degree in any college will require you to take at least 40-45 classes across 3-5 years. Out of these classes, about 20-25 classes will have to be courses directly related to your major.
Besides, choosing a major, you may also have the freedom to do the following:
- Adding a Minor to your Major
- Taking two majors (double major).
- Designing your own major in some colleges that accept students to develop their own major.
Including a minor by taking an additional eight courses that are different from your major. Some students may want to supplement their primary major with another minor. For example, a student specializing in business may decide to add economics as a minor. Other students may choose to supplement their majors with other majors to diversify their academic aces to attract more jobs better.
At times, it might be easier to double major than adding a minor because of the overlapping courses between two majors. For example, business and finance have a lot of common courses that can count towards both majors.
FAQs on College Majors
The following are some of the frequently asked questions students have when choosing their majors:
1. When should I choose a major?
The time when you need to choose your major will vary, depending on a couple of factors. You can choose a major in your junior year, but again, this will vary across schools. Some colleges, though, will require you to select a major during your application. In most cases, students give the “undecided” answer, which is just fine when you haven’t decided.
If you’d like to take a major with lots of limitations, such as those requiring a lot of classes or if the classes are limited to most students, you must decide early enough. Some majors may require a strict order, and falling behind means that you will have to be in college for another
2. Can I changing Majors later?
Yes, you can, and this is probably the fun of joining a college or a university. You have the freedom to change your major if you discover something better. Sure, you might join college when you love Physics only to come and realize that your passion lies in Literature or Biology.
A study by the University of La Verne shows that nearly half of all college applicants enter college uncertain about their field of study. Not only that but also 70 percent of all college freshmen are likely to change majors more than once in their four-year degree program.
However, you must keep in mind that every major has specific coursework to be covered. Some majors will require you to take introductory courses. This could lead to delay graduation dates, and many students are forced to spend much more on tuition fees.
According to the University of Western Kentucky, there are zero chances for the graduation dates to not be pushed back if you changing majors after your 2nd year.
But if that is not a big deal, you can still change your major, depending on what interests you the most. And don't hate yourself because of this. It's natural always to discover something better in life, and you are not the first one to change a major.
Unsurprisingly, students who shift majors at least once during their four-year degree program have higher graduation rates than those who stick to the same field for their entire degree program.
3. Will the workload differ significantly with different majors?
Workloads do differ significantly on the genre of major you pick. For example, you might need to put in more hours if you selected Mechanical Engineering compared to Business Studies. I am not saying one is easier than the other, it’s just that you may need to put additional hours to fulfil lab requirements, etc.
Students also need to determine the workload that awaits them even as they wait to start taking their majors. If you already have a major in mind, you must research the workload you will encounter to help you adequately prepare for it. For example, you calculate the weekly workload of your major and determine if you can manage to handle it. When calculating your workload - whether daily, weekly, or monthly, you may want to include reading demands, assignments, course requirements, among other things.
4. Can I pick multiple majors?
As a student, you are not limited to only taking one major. Most colleges allow students to double their majors while some even offer students a chance to triple their majors. This is good news, especially to the students who would want to have more than one major.
According to a study by Vanderbilt University, many students who decide to take multiple majors list a foreign language as one of their majors. Some other popular double majors are Business and Economics, Government and Philosophy, Psychology, and Biology, among others.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Major
The following are some of the primary factors that you got to think of when deciding which major you want to pick for yourself:
1. Economic Factors
According to Georgetown's data on 'The Economic Value of College Majors,' nearly 80 percent of college applicants choose majors based on earning potential and benefits.
The research also found that the average annual salary for degree graduates between the age of 21-25 across all majors was $33,000. Meanwhile, students without a bachelor's degree earned an average of $22,000 per annum.
Additionally, professionals aged 25-59 with bachelor's degree distinction earned an annual salary of $60,000. On the other hand, employees with high school certificates earned an average yearly salary of $36,000.
Majors in the field of STEM are popular, and as such, they offer the highest annual salaries. Sadly, majors in the field of Social Sciences, Humanities and arts offer the lowest annual salaries. However, it is worth noting that not all these careers pay the lowest as some belong to the STEM field.
ROI Majors Calculation
As I said earlier, Return on Investment is a critical factor when choosing your major. Students should avoid majors that have no positive ROI. To get the ROI of the major you intend to take, you need to check out the difference between the cost you will incur choosing the major and major's career earnings.
Recently, Salary.com published a list of subjects with good and bad Returns on Investment. To get to this, Salary.com checked out the average tuition fees at both private and public colleges, both median and per annum salaries. Check out what they found:
- For Biology - a laboratory manager would earn a median salary of $85,292 and a 30-year earning of $5,030,519. (ROI if you attended public college - 134%, ROI if you attended a private college - 40%.)
- For Economics - an economist would earn a median salary of $115,671 and a 30-year earning of $6,822,271 (ROI if you attended public college - 182%, ROI if you attended a private college - 55%.)
- For Information Technology- an employee would earn a median salary of $107,578 and a 30-year earning of $6,344,946. (ROI if you attended public college - 169%, ROI if you attended a private college - 51%.)
- For English - a speechwriter would earn a median salary of $78,011 and a 30-year earning of $4,601,086. (ROI if you attended public college - 122%, ROI if you attended a private college - 37%.)
- For Human Resource - a recruiting manager would earn a median salary of $88,916 and a 30-year earning of $5,244,262. (ROI if you attended public college - 139%, ROI if you attended a private college - 42%.)
2. Career Path and Interests
I believe this is the most important factor. I should actually have listed this at #1. People are born differently, and there are things that you are naturally good at. In my opinion, anything that you are good at could lead to a good college major match. If you have always been an excellent communicator with an eloquent voice, it would be right to major in journalism or law. If you have always loved to save lives, nursing might just be the best major for you. If you enjoy leading others, government would be your perfect match. In other words, carefully examine your skills and see if there’s any major that can relate to any major.
Choosing a major can help define your future. You need to think about the subjects you love and the ones you hated or sucked at. If you love and enjoy literature, don’t hold it back just because you are not sure about what the future holds for you. These days, employers value employees who have writing capabilities.
On the flip side, if you hated a subject that you know that major may not be a good fit for you. For example, if you hated Mathematics, it will not be a great idea to choose a major, such as Physics, because there are higher chances that Maths will still give you difficulties, even at the college level.
Likewise, if you want to take nursing, you must know that nursing requires every student to take Organic Chemistry. This is because nurses will need to understand how drugs work in the human body. So, if Chemistry wasn’t your cup of tea, it will be best not to go for this major.
Lastly, in most cases, you will be undecided when it comes to choosing your major. Don’t worry; you still have the option to select your major from your interests. Exploring your interests is a little bit different from choosing a major based on the subjects you love. In other words, exploring your interests means choosing your major based on what you are passionate about.
Talk to your mentors, professors, and department personnel to help you brainstorm some of the best majors that can match your passion. Get internships and learn more about some of the majors that could relate to what you are passionate about. This will help you choose the best majors that correlate well with whatever you are passionate about.
3. Which Majors Can Lead Me to an Advanced Degree?
An approximate number of 25 percent of bachelor program students will most likely get a graduate degree. However, it would help to get more advanced credentials to compete with other professionals in the job market fairly. Some career positions will demand that you have either a master's degree or a Ph.D.
That is why you must choose a major that will ultimately lead you to an advanced degree. To help you real quick, I created a shortlist of some of the major that can lead you to an advanced degree with their probabilities:
- Physical Sciences – 49.2%
- Education – 49%
- Biology & Life Sciences – 46.8%
- Health – 42.2%
- Psychology and Social Work – 39.8%
- Humanities & Liberal Arts – 39.7%
- Social Sciences – 37.9%
- Law & Public Policy – 37.4%
- Architecture & Engineering – 37.2%
- Communications & Journalism – 36.7%
- Computers/Statistics/Mathematics – 35.2%
- Arts – 32.6%
- Agriculture & Natural Resources – 30.2%
- Business – 27%
- Industrial Arts/Consumer Services/Recreation – 22%
4. Understand Your Personality Type
Today, the experts are encouraging students to choose a major based on their personality or work habits. In a 2013 survey, it was found that up to thirty-six percent of students choose to take majors that were a good fit, while a third went for majors that were termed "poor fit." However, most experts say that students will perform better if they choose majors in line with their personality.
Your personalities and priorities will play a huge role when determining a major. Ask yourself questions like, “do I prefer to work for someone else, or I’d rather work for myself and company?” “Do you prefer to stay around your locality, or want to go somewhere far away from your friends and relatives?”
These can help you decide whatever major you’d want to choose at the college level. For example, if you don’t love working for someone else, maybe you’d consider entrepreneurship to have control of whatever you do. Travel majors may not be the best fit for you if you want to stay near your family.
A tool called The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed to help you brainstorm some of the best majors that relate to your personalities. This tool runs a test to discover subjects that may relate to an individual's personality. Additionally, this tool uses attitudes and habits to match students' personalities and majors. According to the Boston Globe, eighty percent of the recruiting managers at some of the Fortune 500 companies use the Ariel-Briggs formula to scrutinize applicants' personalities.
Next Steps: Read About Occupations
Taking your time to read about careers, education requirements, and such related stuff can help you come up with an excellent college major. And now that there is a ton of information on the internet, there is nothing to worry about. You can leverage the Occupational Outlook Handbook provided by the United States Department Labor and see if you can think of any right college major that suits you.
If you have thought of a particular major, you must do some research about the requirements. For example, it would help if you investigated the coursework to see if it’s something you can handle.
Fortunately, there’s an easier way to do this. You just need to visit an undergraduate catalog of any college or university and check out if the classes would interest you. If you are sure that you love the classes, then this could be your perfect match. It is also essential to go the extra mile and carefully study what the major entails. This is because there may be exciting classes for that major, but there are also other disciplines that you didn’t like back in high school.
Choosing a college major doesn't have to be a daunting task. All you need to do is to try the different techniques listed in this guide to find your perfect college major. Additionally, you must consider your interests ahead of anything else. It would also help if you jotted down a list of priorities to help you filter out the majors that would work a great deal for you and leave out the rest that may not be your perfect match. Good luck in choosing your college major.