Choosing a Major

Choosing a Major

Let’s get this out of the way now: Don’t stress over choosing a major.

Your chosen major will identify the course of study you took during your university education, but it will not determine your life’s direction. In fact, many of us go into careers totally unrelated to our major fields of study. So goes life.

Let this post serve as a guide for how to go about deciding on a major for yourself, but let us also keep a larger perspective about the relative importance of this decision throughout the discussion.

What a Major Is and Isn’t

A major is simply a topic around which you organize your studies for the four or so years you are in college. Most American universities require that you specify a major.

For example, I majored in journalism. The classes in my major revolved around communication, how to write news stories, how to design newspapers and more abstract issues such as journalistic ethics. I also took classes in accounting, marketing, French and organic chemistry. In practice, all my choice of major did was give a certain direction to my studies.

A major, however, does not necessarily line you up on a certain career trajectory. In reality, theater majors go into management positions at real estate companies, philosophy majors pass the bar exam to become lawyers, and guys who took classes in psychology go on to create Facebook.

Making the Choice of Major

Some people are lucky and know exactly what they want their life’s work to be. An aspiring lawyer knows he or she must pass the LSAT and get into law school. His or her undergraduate major really only needs to be congruent with that goal, so pre-law or even anthropology majors could be a good fit.

These people are the lucky few. If such clarity of vision fails you, welcome to the club. You will have to ponder and meditate your choice of major a bit harder.

The first step is to consider your interests. You can probably eliminate a few majors off the top of your head (Aviation? Ancient Greek? Forensics? Sociology? Chemical engineering?) because they simply don’t resonate with you. Flip open your school’s course catalogue and note some classes that do speak to you.

After that, consider your own strengths. Perhaps writing comes naturally to you. Perhaps you grew up in a bilingual home and can pick up new languages with ease. Perhaps you have taken apart and rebuilt your own computer on multiple occasions. Note these, too, and see what aligns with the interests you come up with in the previous step.

Also, talk to both advisors and other students at your university. They can offer guidance and recommendations beyond what you can learn from a syllabus. It may be useful to try a foundational course in each of a few majors one semester. This exposes you to that particular field of study, plus it introduces you to professors who will likely be more than glad to talk with you about your decision further.

Finally, don’t stress too heavily over this decision. If you don’t like your major, you can always change it. Remember, you are only giving your undergraduate studies direction, not the entirety of your life.

And once you graduate and begin working, you will continue to learn new ideas and professionally specific skills that likely will take your career off in another direction entirely.

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