Updated on 05.22.15

How to Choose the Right Major

College students

Your major will determine what you study for the next few years, and even what career options you have — so choose wisely. Photo: Francisco Osorio

Spring semester is about to start, and if you haven’t declared a major yet, your “exploratory” or “undecided” days may be numbered.

But choosing a college major is a big decision. When you pick a major, you’re not only dictating what you’ll be studying for the next few (or more) years in college, but what career opportunities you may have in the future. It can also be a hard decision to stick with — as many as 80% of college students change their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

While it’s hard to predict what you want to do with the rest of your life when you’re just out of high school, choosing the right major the first time can help you avoid switching it halfway through school, which can lead to more time in college and more student loans.

One option to curb against astronomically high loans is to explore online education opportunities. Even if you only take a semester or two online, you’ll be saving yourself a significant amount of money in tuition and giving yourself the flexibility to decide on a major while interning or working. Use the tool below to search through online education opportunities:

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Questions to Ask Yourself

The first step is thinking about what type of career you want to explore. Ask yourself:

  • What type of career would you love to have?
  • What are your strengths, abilities, and talents? Do they align with the career you’re looking for?
  • What were your favorite subjects in high school? What did you do the best in?
  • What are your hobbies, interests, and passions? Studying something you love can help you stay motivated and focused.
  • What type of work environment do you want to have? For example, do you prefer a traditional Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 position? What would you think about working nights and weekends, working fewer but longer shifts, or traveling for your job?
  • What is the job outlook for the careers you’re considering? How likely would you be to get a job after graduation? What is the salary for these jobs?
  • For each major you’re exploring, what is the course load like?
  • What is the cost of the major? Some may require additional testing and certifications, more supplies and books, and more time in school, which will cost you more money.

How to Choose the Best Major

  • Research possible careers. If you have no idea what career you want, start by talking to your high school guidance counselor or, if you’re already in college, visit the career services office. Research jobs, take a career assessment test, browse careers by industry, and more on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website. Their Bureau of Labor Statistics website will tell you a job’s median pay, future growth outlook, what the position entails, what the work environment is like, and what credentials you may need. Also take a look at some of the degree programs with the best career prospects — and majors with the worst outlook as well.
  • Sit in on a few classes. Contact a college to ask if you can sit in on classes in a particular major to get an idea of what they’ll be like.
  • Meet with professors in that major. If they’re willing to, meet with a professor to talk about the major and career objectives.
  • Talk to college students or, better yet, soon-to-be grads. If you’re in high school, ask your counselor if they know anyone in majors similar to what you’re considering. You can also contact your anticipated college’s admissions department or the academic department for majors you’re considering. Talk with current students, ideally those near graduation, on what majoring in that subject was like and their job prospects. Shadow possible careers from each major you’re considering.
  • Talk to family and friends. Scholarships.com recommends talking with family members and friends about what their process was like for choosing a major and deciding on a career path.
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