Guide to Choosing College Majors

One of the biggest decisions you will make is deciding on a college major. This single decision-point will impact the remainder of your life.

The decision should require a deep analysis with plenty of parental support and expert input from teachers, counselors and industry professionals.

Unfortunately, it more often looks like this:

“I like reading the news. I think I’ll get a degree in Journalism.”

Oh my.

And with that 30 second “Decision,” you just agreed to spend $100,000 (or more) to enter a field with a starting pay as low as $25,510 per year with a job outlook of -11%, where people are getting fired rather than hired. This means you went to college to get a job with pay equivalent to a fast-food restaurant, if you can find someone to hire you at all.

Best Career Test for College Students:

A large percentage of our college-age customers use a Career Test as a tool to help determine a college major. By determining likely career fields, students are able to back into their college majors. It’s this simple: CareerTest says you should be a teacher, so you look into majoring in education.

This is certainly a good start to finding your college major, but a decision of such importance certain warrants additional study and consideration.

College Personality Quiz:

Many students are interested in how their base personality fits with various college majors. CareerTest integrates the Personality Style Inventory into the body of our test. This inventory attempts to categorize people as one of five styles including Counselor, Examiner, Rock, Seeker and Uniter. Each of these styles has a significant impact on the test results.

There are certainly other well-known personality tests that can guide you in your decision-making. One of best known is the Holland Code (RIASEC) Test This test categorizes people into six personality types including Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional.

Keep in mind that personality is a very broad decision point. It can guide you into areas of exploration, but it shouldn’t be thought of as the final word on a college major.

Choose Your Major: An Exercise in Four Parts

Part 1: Major in What You Love!

What are you interested in? Science, math, writing, computers, helping people, teaching, leading others, building things, investments, architecture? Think about which articles you always click on. What do you find yourself reading online?

What you do like to do? Composing, designing, public speaking, solving problems, planning, coaching, analyzing, organizing, researching, using tools? What do you enjoy? What are the things you do in your spare time?

What do you find fulfilling? Your life is full of activities, but what makes you feel most proud? What do you find highly rewarding? When you tell people stories about your life, what situations do you describe? Why do those events stand out for you? Do any of these fulfilling activities suggest a college major?

Make a List: Based on your interests, likes and what you find fulfilling, make a list of potential college majors. Don’t worry about if it makes sense yet, just write them down.

Part 2: Major in What You Can Do

List your strengths: Make a list of your greatest strengths. In which classes do you excel? What do people say you do best? What comes naturally to you?

List your limitations: Do a reality check on your list of majors. Be honest about your abilities. Can you do the coursework for the majors you listed? You may love Astronomy and star gazing, but are you capable of doing the Doctorate level physics and mathematics to become an astronomer?

Be realistic: Stretch for your dreams but be realistic about your capabilities.

Part 3: Check college majors against the “Real World”

Your college major is your career foundation: Remember that your college major isn’t just something that’s interesting to study for four years, it’s the foundation of the daily work you will do for the rest of your life.

Drill down to actual jobs: Sometimes the title of a job title sounds better than the actual day-to- day work. A hot career right now is “Photovoltaic Installer.” Doesn’t that sound awesome? You’ll be part of the green energy movement! But the actual work means being up on a roof in scorching sun; that is, unless you’re in the attic or crawl space connecting the panels to the electric grid.

Talk to people in the field: Would they do it again? What is the job actually like? Some careers are presented as highly exciting when in fact the daily work is anything but. For example, FBI Agents are shown as heroic and exciting. In the real world, 95% of agents never fire their weapon on-the-job in their entire career. However, watching them fill out paperwork doesn’t make for great TV.

Think about what you dislike: Take a look at your potential majors. You wrote down Pre- Med/Surgeon, but you can’t stand the sight of blood. You listed Psychology, but you hate listening to people complain about their problems. You listed Computer Science, but you wouldn’t want to sit at a desk all day.

What do you want to avoid? Want to care for children or the elderly? Work with money and budgets? Deal with people who are angry? Face difficult deadlines? Get dirty or sweaty? Perform repetitive work?

Google is your friend: This is easy. Google “worst part about being a (fill in the blank.)” Read everything on the first page. Still interested?

One of the biggest decisions you will make is deciding on a college major. This single decision-point will impact the remainder of your life.

Choosing a college major

Part 4: Major in what makes sense

This is the hard one. You’ll probably want to choose a major because it’s a subject you like. That seems simple enough. But in reality, there are many additional decision points that you’ll need to consider.

Competition in the field: Some college majors lead to highly competitive careers where only the best-of-the-best end up working in the field. Degrees that lead to careers like Data Scientist, Art Director, Design Manager, and Software Engineer are highly competitive. Are you up to the challenge?

Job Growth in the Field: Before you choose a major, make sure you know the future of the job you’re pursuing. Nuclear Power Reactor Operator sounds great and it pays well, but it’s facing a 36% decline in employment over the next decade. Do your research.

Return on Educational Investment: When you consider the cost of the degree in terms of tuition and years of lost earnings, some college majors make very little financial sense. Some of the worst returns are in art, music, photography, social work, recreational therapy, museum curators, graphic design, and interior design.

Focus on Careers, not just Majors: A Good Rule of Thumb: Choose a major that describes an actual career title.

Avoid college majors where people ask, “What do you do with that?” Instead, seek majors that define high-paying jobs:

  • A degree in Actuarial Science becomes an Actuary.
  • A degree in Engineering becomes an Engineer.
  • A degree in Chemistry becomes a Chemist.
  • A degree in Software Engineering becomes a Software Engineer.
  • A degree in Construction Management becomes a Construction Manager.

  • In comparison, if you need to explain why you chose that major, it’s a bad sign.

  • A degree in Art History becomes a… what?
  • A degree in English becomes a… what?
  • A degree in Sociology becomes a… what?
  • A degree in Psychology becomes a… what? (Unless you earn a Ph.D.)

  • A Few Words of Caution:

    Explore which College Majors lead directly to Related Careers:

    It’s important to remember that most college majors don’t translate directly into related careers. In fact, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only about a quarter of graduates work directly in the field indicated by the major.

    There may also be several jobs that are somewhat related to the degree before reaching the goal that you had intended. For example, based on this article from CareerCast The Myth of Marketing Careers fewer than 1 in 5000 Marketing Majors found careers as a marketing professional. The vast majority went into sales instead, which is typically not taught as part of a marketing curriculum.

    Beware of Worthless College Majors:

    All learning is good, right? That’s probably true, but some learning is worth more in your paycheck. When choosing a college major, beware of majors that often lead to personal debt rather than personal satisfaction.

    Have you ever Googled, “Worthless College Majors”? Really fun. You should try it.

    The results of that Google search reveal the sometimes-disastrous decision-making by high school students looking to live the dream. Theater Arts? Sure, it’s on the list, right next to Drama. You can learn to cry on command. Believe me, that’s a skill you’ll likely use. A lot.

    Psychology major? Sounds great, but you better plan on a Ph.D. because anything less could be a ticket to disappointment. What exactly can you do with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology? Child care? Animal trainer? Psychiatric Aide? Sales clerk?

    What about a degree in Social Work, Community Organization or Human Services? You might be thinking, it’s not just a career, it’s a calling, right? You’ll get the opportunity to help other people, but you’ll also likely need help yourself repaying all those student loans on a minimal salary.

    How about Cosmetology? Culinary arts? Fine arts? Fashion design? Photography?

    While it’s true that some exceptionally talented people succeed at the top of those fields, the majority end up working in unrelated professions just to pay the rent.

    How to figure out what you want to major in?

    Determining your college major should not only be based only on how you feel; it should be thought of as an equation with a series of variables that you can adjust based on a market analysis, as well as on your feelings, abilities and personal motivations.

    What type of variables should be included in your analysis? Consider the following:

  • What’s important to you?
  • What are your career priorities?
  • What are your skills, talents and special abilities?
  • Do your circumstances allow years of study to achieve your goal?
  • Is your IQ or ability to learn sufficient to meet the challenge?
  • What does you history of educational achievement say about you?
  • Have you considered both starting and median salaries related to this major?
  • How many people will be hired in this field in the next decade?
  • Does the unemployment rate cause concern?
  • Do politics or recent social change impact this major?
  • Do family or other responsibilities limit your potential choices?
  • Are you prepared to spend years learning your desired craft?

  • What is the Best College Major?

    As you can see from this article, defining the best college major for you is a complicated process that will require analysis, honesty, deep personal reflection and a reliance on data rather than just emotion.

    This is a huge decision that will be with you for the remainder of your life. Take your time. Think deeply. Do your homework. Ask for help. Remember that this one decision will impact your life, your family and your entire future.

    All the best in choosing a college major that is right for you!

    This blog entry is one in a series of Career Guidance articles that we hope will assist you in finding your perfect career. The articles will be released in the following sequence. We hope you find them valuable.

    • Your natural intelligence: Ability to learn and comprehend
    • Educational achievement: Ability to apply intelligence
    • Entrepreneurial assessment: Desire and aptitude for self-employment
    • College majors: What you prefer to study and learn
    • Practical career matters: Career path, benefits, travel and stress.
    • Work ethic: Financial motivation, effort and personal drive
    • Market conditions: Job Growth, job availability and level of competition
    • Career options: Inside/Outside, Mental/Physical, etc.
    • Work environments: Where, specifically, do you prefer to work?
    • Career personality: Careers that match your core personality.
    • Career values: How do your personal values impact your career choices?
    • Career aptitude and talent: What can you do or learn to do?
    • Career interests and desires: What do you enjoy?
    • People preferences: Who would you most like to work with?
    • Job activities: Specific job activities you'd like to avoid.
    • Natural and learned skills: Skills that you enjoy and do well.
    • Elements of career satisfaction: Your specific career satisfaction elements.

    Next Up:

    Part Three: Entrepreneurial Assessment -Desire and aptitude for self-employment

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