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5 Things To Keep In Mind When Choosing A College Major

A young man sits on a laptop at a desk.

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

When choosing a college major, students often focus on the past or the future to make their decision.

A student focusing on the past may think, “Well, I did decently in biology in high school and I didn’t hate it, so I guess I’ll major in biology.”

Another student, focusing on the future, may say, “I want to be a journalist, and my aunt who’s a journalist majored in English, so I’ll major in English.”

For many, this may be a perfectly fine system. But some of us felt out of place in high school classes. Maybe you did well enough in your core subjects, but you can’t see yourself in any of them long term.

Some of us have no idea what we want to do in the future. There are so many options! How do you pick a major when you’re not sure what you already like and what you could possibly like?

Don’t panic! You are currently at a lucky point in your life where you have the ability to explore many options. Here are some tips in figuring out which academic path is right for you.

1. Do you want to go to university? 

More students should be asked this. While university is seen as the default option when graduating, it’s not the most beneficial path for every student. Some students start a job right after graduating. Some join the military. Some opt for vocational school

Most high schools offer vocational programs at a much cheaper cost than attending college after graduating. These programs can give you a leg up in getting some credits done before officially enrolling in an apprenticeship.

If you can never focus in class because you’re thinking about going home and helping your father in the garage, or going to the local pet shelter to volunteer with the dogs, or cook a fancy meal for the upcoming benefit dinner— vocational school could very well be a great option for you.

Programs for automotive upkeep, vet tech, cybersecurity, culinary arts, cosmetology, audio engineering, nursing and healthcare, veterinarian technology, and more are all available for often a much cheaper price than traditional university.

If you think these descriptions sound like you, it may be worth exploring if your high school has a vocational program you could enroll in.

2. Why do you like that class?

For some people, saying they like or dislike a subject is far too broad. I loved my Italian class, but I thought majoring in a foreign language would drive me crazy. So instead, I asked myself why I liked my Italian class. I came up with a list. 

  • I liked being able to hold conversations with people I otherwise wouldn’t have met.
  • Learning grammar rules and conjugations felt like a fun puzzle.
  • I enjoy traveling and learning Italian is what encouraged me to set a goal to travel to Italy.
  • I enjoyed being able to watch Italian films without having to watch them dubbed.

You may be wondering what any of these things have to do with picking a major. When I made this list, I was too.

But as I’ve progressed through my college career, taking classes in subjects that weren’t offered at my high school, I’ve come to some answers.

I liked talking to new people? That was a perfect skill for journalism, where you get to hear everyone’s side of the story. Traveling? International journalism. Conjugating felt like a fun puzzle? I decided to sign up for a linguistics class and fell in love with the patterns of language.

Sometimes you may like a class but not feel drawn to the subject, and that’s a great time to ask yourself what you find valuable in that class. Maybe you like that your English teacher makes the book feel like a movie in your head. Maybe you like the pretty colors in your chemistry class.

All of these ideas may seem minuscule in the moment, but they’re all important insights into what you value in your education.

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3. Try new things!

Yes, this advice is everywhere. But it cannot be stressed enough. College is the perfect time to breach your comfort zone and throw a class you may have never considered before into the mix.

Whether it’s because the professor has good ratings or you just need three more credits and it’s the only open class, those are the sort of courses that stick with you.

How many high schools do you know that offer Forensic Anthropology? Intro to Audio Engineering? Horror Stories Throughout History? How to Build a Nuclear Bomb? (I can’t believe that one was an actual class either).

The point is, if you’ve never had the chance to take them before, there’s no reason for you to assume you’ll hate them or they’ll be too difficult. Allow yourself to explore new paths and opportunities, because when will you have the chance again?

4. Ask other students what they like about their major. 

This one can have surprising results. Students who have a genuine and strong passion for their major often have interesting and thoughtful reasons why they chose it.

That’s not to say there’s a problem if you aren’t head over heels for your major as sometimes our passions lie outside of academia, but listening to someone excitedly talk about their academic interests can lead to a new perspective and enthusiasm.

This is especially true for someone who has just completed research. If you know another student who will be presenting research, ask them about it! Nine times out of ten they will be more than happy to explain to you why they care about this issue so much. It may inspire you in the process.

5. Volunteer when you can. 

The great thing about volunteering is that organizations always need volunteers and you will feel great for having done it. Volunteering can help you narrow down which issues you’re most passionate about, and even if you don’t know how to help yet, usually finding a problem to solve will help you naturally work out the best way for you to contribute to solving it.

So, find an animal shelter or a food bank or an after school program and try to help out where you can. You will be making a positive difference and learning something about yourself along the way. Everybody wins. 

Finally, it’s okay if you just don’t know. Going in with an undeclared major is not the end of the world. You don’t have to have it all figured out.

Spend your first year fulfilling university requirements as well as taking any courses that pique your curiosity. You never know what could stick.

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Author: Zoe Bussewitz

Hello! I am a sophomore at Stony Brook University currently studying abroad at the University of Manchester. I study Journalism and Social Sciences (politics, psychology, linguistics). I worked in Stony Brook’s Study Abroad office for a year and am passionate about sharing global educational experiences with you all! In my spare time I enjoy filmmaking, playing folk and fiddle music, and traveling anywhere and everywhere.