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The University of St. Thomas (UST) is Houston’s Catholic University, committed to the Catholic intellectual tradition and the dialogue between faith and reason. Our blog is dedicated to helping you explore your future career possibilities and how to make the most of your college experience.
Choosing a Major
How to Choose a Major: A Guide for Students Who Can’t Decide
Going to college has always been part of your plans. Maybe you’ve heard that obtaining a degree can help boost your earning potential. It could also be that you’re eager to join a learning community with valuable networking opportunities. Or perhaps you’re motivated by something else entirely. Regardless of your reason, you know that pursuing a college degree is in your future.
While you’re committed to furthering your education, you’re less certain of what field you want to study. It can be overwhelming to choose a major when you have so many options. How can you possibly choose?
Luckily, you’re not the first student to face this dilemma. Lee Holm[CS1] , director of academic advising and enrollment services at the University of St. Thomas, has helped guide plenty of students along their journey. His insight may help you better understand how to choose a major that makes sense for your professional goals.
How to choose a major if you’re still undecided
Rather than attempting to pick one option from a long list of majors, try a more thoughtful approach. Start by identifying the classes you’ve exceled in and the skills you’ve already developed, and then you can work your way closer to choosing a major.
1. Recognize your strengths
Instead of worrying about what you “should” study, take a moment to think about what you’re great at in your everyday life. Maybe securing good grades in a particular class seems effortless for you, whether it’s math, biology, English or another discipline. It’s also wise to think about the specific skills you’ve mastered, which may not relate to one specific subject. Being able to communicate well, work as part of a team and think critically are all examples of skills that lend themselves to multiple fields.
While it can sometimes be difficult to determine your strengths, you can start by asking teachers, friends and family members what they think. It can also be helpful to review feedback from previous school assignments to see whether there are any recurring themes. Maybe multiple teachers have told you that you’re great at explaining complex topics, for instance.
“If you’re more creative, maybe you should be a marketing major,” Holm offers. “If you’re good with numbers, take a look at majoring in finance.” You can even use one of the many aptitude assessments that are out there. As you identify more of your strengths, you can start to understand which majors might be a good fit.
2. Study topics that interest you
College students are increasingly making decisions about what to study based on careers that are lucrative and experiencing growth. It’s certainly wise to keep the job market in mind when weighing what to study, but not at the risk of abandoning your true passions. After all, it makes little sense to major in mechanical engineering if you don’t enjoy physics.
“If your mind isn’t grabbing it, perhaps you’re trying to go into a field that you’re not ready for yet, that you’re not excited about or that you’re just not suited for,” Holm says.
Research shows that students who choose a major that aligns with their interests are ultimately more satisfied with their chosen area of study. “The biggest thing I tell students here is, ‘Find your passion. Find the subject that you’re excited to go study,’” Holm advises.
As you think about how to best pursue your passions, know that you can focus on specific subjects or broader career paths. It might be easier to recognize that you’re interested in a medical career than biology or kinesiology.
3. Start exploring subjects as you take classes
Even if it’s becoming clear that a certain major is probably the right choice for you, it’s still a good idea to keep an open mind when you begin college. You’ll need to complete a set number of core classes[CS2] , also called general education requirements, regardless of what you decide to study. While it might seem silly to take time away from your chosen subject, there are several benefits students gain by taking core classes. You’ll likely engage with students you wouldn’t have otherwise met, develop a broader set of skills and even discover an interest you didn’t know you had.
“Use the core curriculum as an opportunity to take courses that can help you find out if you have a greater passion,” Holm adds. “You might be very good at history, and it turns out history teaches you essential research skills that could become critical to your job later.”
There’s something to be said for gaining exposure to different topics and activities for the sake of enjoyment as well. One study even reports that students who participate in a multitude of activities and interactions are more satisfied with their chosen major.
4. Work with your academic advisor
Don’t be afraid to seek some additional guidance as you pinpoint which major is right for you. While you can gather input from your family and friends, make sure to work with your academic advisor as well. These professionals can answer just about any question you have related to your education. Their experience helping students navigate college also means they can provide valuable perspective you may not have considered.
“Most students think of picking a major as narrowing the funnel of jobs they can land on, but the funnel is already narrow if you don’t finish college,” Holm explains. “If we can get you to your degree, even if it’s not in the major you initially chose when you started, we’ve now opened it up.”
When to declare your major
Every college has different requirements when it comes to declaring your major. That said, most schools will allow you to remain undecided for at least a few years. Many students also opt to pursue a different area of study partway through their education, and that’s perfectly fine. Research shows that changing majors early in college doesn’t negatively affect students.
Clearly, you should take your time to make an informed decision. Just know that it becomes difficult to complete a full degree program in four years if you wait too long. Some programs include a substantial number of prerequisites that you may not be able to complete within a short timeline. This doesn’t mean you can’t graduate, but it does mean you may have to extend your time as a student by a few semesters.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to study just one discipline if you don’t want to, either. You can also choose a minor concentration, which doesn’t have to relate to your primary area of study. You could even obtain a double major or choose a degree that combines multiple subjects.
Remember, working with your academic advisor can be incredibly beneficial. They know how to help you identify subjects you’re interested in, how to craft your degree plan and how to start preparing for your future professional life.
“If we can find your passion, we can find your career,” Holm says.
Find the right field for you
There’s no denying that it can be overwhelming to figure out how to choose a major during college. The good news is you have plenty of time to decide. In fact, waiting until after you’ve studied a few subjects can help ensure you ultimately make the right decision for you.
While you have the opportunity to get a taste of multiple majors at any school, liberal arts colleges typically place an even greater emphasis on learning different disciplines. At the University of St. Thomas (UST), for instance, students are encouraged to explore all types of subjects. Find out whether this type of education is right for you by taking a look at our article “Appreciating the True Value of a Liberal Arts Education[CS3] .”
For UST: The insight we included from Lee Holm comes from a previous interview for the article “Appreciating the True Value of a Liberal Arts Education.” [CS1]
[CS2]Add link to “Exploring Core Classes in College and Why They’re Important” once published.
[CS3]Add link once published.
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