Picking a major is a really hard decision. And there aren’t any fool-proof ways to do it, either.
The majority of students change their major at least once, and I completely understand why! You are a totally different person when you first step onto that university campus than when you graduate four years later. That being said, I do think that most people who change majors do so not because they have necessarily changed fundamentally as a person but because they chose a major without asking themselves some important questions to make sure it was the right choice first.
I know that everyone is starting school already, but the reason I’m writing this now is that I know that many of you guys will start questioning whether or not you chose the right major in about two months. So, to save you that trouble and stress right before your first exam season, I compiled a list of questions that I asked myself to help me choose my own major and that I think will help you make sure that you are picking a major that is complimentary to who you are as a person and what you want your life to look like 20 years from now!
I personally could not be happier with my field of study, and I want to see you guys as excited about your studies as I am about mine (even though I sound extremely nerdy after saying that)! School is such a gift, but it is also stressful, and the stress is easier if you’re picking a major that you truly enjoy rather than one that doesn’t quite fit!
So, without further ado, here are 7 questions to ask yourself BEFORE picking a major:
1. Am I only choosing this because someone else wants me to?
I see this one all too often, and inevitably the kid ends up switching majors halfway through.
I have 3 friends who went to school picking a major in bio med because it made their parents proud. And of those three, now one is in psych, another is in history, and the other is now in general social sciences. I’m not saying that bio med is a bad major–I think it’s great if you’re really interested in it. Just make sure that you don’t feel pressured by your parents, your teachers, or even yourself to choose a major because it’s just what you’re supposed to do.
2. Am I only choosing this because I don’t know what I want to do?
I’m a firm believer that if you are going to school to find what you want to do as a career, you’re just going to be disappointed. College is for learning skills for the career that you want, it doesn’t give you classes in figuring out your life plan. I’m not saying don’t go to college if you don’t have a 10 year plan, I’m just saying that if you don’t know what you want to do maybe take the summer and work or research job opportunities and then change your major to one that will lead to to a career path that is a good fit with your personality.
My plans have changed so drastically since I started school. My husband’s even more so. I began school thinking I was going to become a family and marriage counsellor, and then realized that I have neither the patience nor the disposition for it. Now, I’m working towards working with autistic children because (believe it or not) my work with them has shown me that I have endless patience for those kids, even though that’s a virtue that I am sorely lacking in other areas in life. I really feel that it’s my calling in life. I would never have learned that if I hadn’t worked for 2 months in a deaf school, though. Working is what showed me what I want to do with my life. If you’re still trying to figure out what you should major in, I would highly suggest looking back to your work experience and analyzing what you liked and what you didn’t.
Changing your mind isn’t the end of the world! Often it’s for the best! But it makes your school life a lot easier if you go in with a plan, even if it’s just penciled in.
3. Do I realistically understand what it takes to do this?
I’m going to be blunt here: not everyone is able to do bio chem.
Look at your high school experience and your academic gifts. Do you struggle with writing? Maybe reconsider an arts degree for something more applied. Are you able to buckle down and study for hours at a time? Then maybe you’ll be able to handle science. I see so many people go into college with these huge dreams of becoming a physicist or getting a PhD in political science but they just don’t have the skills required for the major. And you know what? That’s OK! I was originally in a bachelor of science but I switched to a bachelor of arts because I wasn’t able to maintain it with the social life that I wanted from school.
Some majors are just harder than others. That’s the cold, hard, truth. So please be realistic when you’re making your goals. I lived with a bio chem student and I can tell you now I would never be able to do what she did. And you know what? That has nothing to do with my intelligence. It has to do with how my intelligence displays itself. So figure out what your brain likes to do, and what it just can’t. Then work from there.
4. What kinds of jobs can I get in this field?
College life is so much fun, and it can be really easy to get wrapped up in these four years and forget about the rest of our lives. That being said, college is only four years, and does lead to the rest of your life! So before you settle 100% on picking a major, I would seriously consider looking at the career opportunities in the field of study. If you’re going to be majoring in philosophy or English you need a much better plan to find a job in the field than if you’re in engineering, which provides you with a skill at the end of your four years.
However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pursue a field of study that has fewer employment opportunities. You just need to understand that it’s going to be harder, and that you need to do a lot of work to be successful. Again, it’s about figuring out if you’re able and willing to do the work that major comes with not only in these four years, but in the years to come!
5. Am I willing to do graduate studies in this field?
This won’t apply to all majors, since some really do have job opportunities right out of college. But for degrees that do not provide you with a specific skill set (psych is one of those), you need to be willing to do graduate studies in order to get a job.
This goes hand in hand with point #4. You need to do your research about what kinds of jobs are available and what kinds of requirements they have! The job I’m hoping to work as later is going to require a LOT of graduate work. And you know what? I’m OK with that, but I also have a back-up that only requires 2 years. Please, do your research! It also makes it a lot easier when you get into the upper years and start thinking about graduation.
6. Are there jobs that work with the kind of lifestyle I want?
Connor and I both chose the jobs we’re working towards right now because we want to live a family-centred life. I’m a woman, and I want to be able to stay home with my kids eventually. That means that I need a job I can work my own hours with. Great! There are tons of opportunities for that in psychology, believe it or not!
Figure out what kind of lifestyle you are interested in and figure out how you can make that work with your major! Do you have major wanderlust? Find a job with a flexible schedule or that you can do online! Do you want to be able to stay home with kids eventually (I know, far down the road, but future you will thank present you)? Then find a job with flexible hours where you can work hours that you choose!
7. Does this topic bring me joy?
Finally, you need to study something that you truly enjoy. I love psychology. It is exactly where I am supposed to be, I have zero doubts. A lot of that peace comes from the fact that I wrestled with each of the above points for quite a while, too!
Look at what you really enjoy discussing, what catches your eye. I’ve always loved explaining behaviour. That’s been my thing. Maybe because I’m an ENTJ, and I like categorizing things, but I love to have explanations for everything, especially people. It was a no-brainer that I was supposed to be in psych. As soon as I mentioned it everyone agreed that it just made sense. My sister is an effervescent people person who makes friends easier than anyone I’ve ever met. So when she decided on marketing, again, no-brainer.
Find something that fits with who you are, with what you love to do. School is an amazing experience, let it be one that gives you a sense of fulfillment as well!