There are lots of helpful tips for choosing a college major, and for all of you incoming freshmen, you'll soon be grateful to have them. However, the same goes for undeclared sophomores and late-blooming juniors. Typically everyone new you meet on campus wants to know your major. A lot of you have probably gone into this new experience with at least an idea about what you want to do, but that's subject to change – perhaps several times. Even if you're sure you want to do something (say, you've wanted to be a doctor since you were eight), you may get to college and discover latent interests you never knew about, or discover that your actual dream doesn't make you as happy as you suspected. So without further ado, hopefully these tips for choosing a college major will help keep you sane.
When you're choosing a college major, it's easy to give into pressure from others or to put pressure on yourself. Why? To follow in the footsteps of your mother, your father, your grandparents, or even your siblings. If your mother's a doctor, and her mother was a doctor, and so on, or if almost everyone in your family decided to become teachers or lawyers, they may look to you to carry on the torch. Even if they don't, you might place those expectations on yourself. It's great to want to make your family proud, but one of the most important tips for choosing a college major is to avoid pigeonholing yourself. Don't do something because everyone else expects it.
You also need to give yourself the freedom to find out what you're really interested in, especially with so many subjects offered. For the most part, you can't take anthropology, sociology, or criminology classes in high school. Given the chance to sample the smorgasbord of subjects offered in the course catalog, take some courses just because you can afford to do it. You never know what might pique your interest.
Never choose a major, or a future profession, because you think it's going to make you a lot of money. If you're majoring in biology or chemistry so you can classify as pre-med because you think being a doctor will make you rich, stop now. It won't. The same goes for pre-law or engineering. Although these are all rich curriculum choices leading to worthwhile professions, they won't automatically make you rich. If you end up in a job you hate or aren't good at in the hopes of making a lot of money, you'll be intensely unhappy, not necessarily that good at what you do, and more likely to become completely burned out – maybe even before you graduate.
All the same, you have to choose a practical major – for you. Don't listen to people tell you that a degree in literature, philosophy, or anthropology won't do you any good. If you want to teach literature, become a writer, a college professor, or an editor, a lit degree is awesome – and you can make money doing what you love. If you want to learn about different cultures, do fieldwork in some distant place, and explore ways of life that the rest of the world doesn't understand, anthropology is a great way to go. However, just make sure that you're choosing something that has some practical reason for you. For instance, you shouldn't choose a philosophy degree just to spite your dad or your old high school teacher, because one of them said it wouldn't do you any good.
Going back to my own example, even if you've planned to be a biology major on a pre-med track since your early days, it's okay to change your mind. You don't want to sign up for a different major every semester – that's not practical, and it wastes time, money, and valuable course hours. However, if you get to college, start taking your pre-med prerequisites, and discover that you suck at chemistry or physics, or that you can't stand the idea of dissecting fetal pigs, that's okay. You can either keep to a degree in a similar field or choose something else that really interests you.
In fact, you can always consider connected degrees. For instance, if you really love anthropology but worry that it won't be practical, consider a degree in sociology. If you want to go pre-law but really hate the idea of getting a political science degree, try criminal justice. And remember, with pre-med and pre-law, you don't have to major in a like-minded subject; all you need are your pre-reqs.
Above all else, however, you have to follow your passions. Even if people tell you that you'll fail or that it won't serve any purpose, think about all your options and go with your heart. Make sure that you have a plan of action and aren't wasting money on a degree you have no intention of using, but if you know what you really want to do, then go for it. You have to be happy and fulfilled in what you do during life after college – or grad school. Remember, there's always grad school.
Picking a college major is easy for some students. Others need time to discover what they're really passionate about. You may toy with several different majors that interest you, but you have to think about the likelihood of how well your degree will serve you in the real world. How did you choose your major – or haven't you picked one yet?
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