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Pick a College Major

(It's a Major Decision)

Great news, you don’t have to have your whole career planned while you’re still in high school. You often don’t need to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year in college. The reason is that, in the traditional 4-year institution, the first 2 years are spent on “core” classes in English language, math, social studies and science.

Colleges and universities understand that you’ll want to explore different disciplines and courses before you pick a major. You also need time to adjust to college life. The subjects that were fun in high school might not be as appealing when you envision working in that field for the rest of your career.


Some schools let you design your own major, which can be a wonderful opportunity — if you have the motivation and resources to pull it off. Sometimes called “interdisciplinary” or “cross-disciplinary” majors because they include more than one area of study, self-designed majors usually require a lot of preparation and upfront work. You might have to present a proposal that must be approved by the institution and you’ll need academic advisors to keep you accountable.

Some institutions offer “meta-majors,” which is a general category of study, rather than a specific major. If you know you want to do something in the health field, for example, but you’re not exactly sure which career, a health care meta-major puts you on track to get the basic underlying courses you’ll need for a broad range of professions, without requiring you to choose right away.

If you’re feeling very ambitious, you might consider a double major or a minor, but give yourself time to adjust to college life and the workload first. For most students, a single major is plenty.


Picking a major is pretty straightforward if you’ve already decided on a career. There should be information readily available from others who have gone into your desired field. Follow their lead, talk to your advisor and set your course.

You might think you know for sure that you want to be a marine biologist because you like the idea of working with sea life and wearing a wet suit, but you might be turned off by the actual work it takes to get there. If, after your first semester, you decide you really don’t like all those science classes after all, you always can change your mind.

Thirty percent of college undergrads change their major at least once before graduation, according to the U.S. Department of Education. But that’s not just something that happens in college. A recent study found Baby Boomers held an average of 11 jobs from age 18 to 48. (Beware: Boomers also experienced an average of 5 spells of unemployment during that same time period).

Plenty of successful people take detours in their education, but the later you change your mind and the further you get from your original major, the more prerequisites you’re likely to need to make up. Curves in the road are fine, but they also can lengthen the journey and increase the cost.


If you have no idea what you want to do, start with what you love. What would you enjoy learning more about? Do you like math, writing, analyzing data, conducting experiments, filmmaking?

You are far more likely to enjoy college and your career if you find it interesting. Your school might offer its own major selection quiz, such as this one from St. Louis University. Or, if you’re still drawing a blank, take a skills test.


Would you rather keep your passions separate from your paycheck? It makes sense — whether you are funding your own education with student loans or your family is paying for it, college is an investment that only pays off after graduation. What kind of return can you expect? What is the starting salary for someone with your degree? Is this field growing? How likely will you be to find a job? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers comprehensive tools and real-time data to explore various occupations as well as the education and training it takes to achieve them.

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

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