Learn how picking the right major can help you graduate and explore ways to find your ideal college major
If you’re about to enter college within the next year or so, you’ve probably been asking yourself this question: “What major should I choose?”
Picking the best college major for you is a pretty daunting task. You might be wondering, why is choosing a college major important anyway? Don’t plenty of students go in undecided or switch their initial majors and still figure it out?
I’m here to say that if you don’t feel ready to commit to a career just yet, that’s okay! You have time to decide. But … I do still believe it’s in your best interest to choose a college major that is the right fit for you.
College retention data—plus my own experience as an educator—suggests that if you start college with a realistic, well-thought-out area of focus, you’ll have a stronger chance of completing your degree.
Keep reading to discover how college majors and students’ sense of career direction impacts their ability to graduate. I’ll also offer you advice on how to decide which is the best college major for you.
What does the data say about college majors and graduation rates?
It’s a sad fact that even though more students are going to college than ever, many of them won’t make it across the finish line and earn their bachelor’s degree.
The nationwide six-year graduation rate is 62%—meaning 4 out of every 10 college freshmen haven’t earned their degree after six years. Some of them might never complete it. And why is that?
Well, there are several factors affecting students’ inability to graduate. One is lack of financial aid despite rising college costs—college is too expensive for many students to afford.
But the factor I’m addressing today is students’ indecision and lack of career direction. An estimated 20 to 50% of students enter college as undecided majors. Plus, over one-third of students change their initial major within three years—many change it more than once.
And unfortunately, many colleges find that students who are still undecided at the end of their freshmen year end up dropping out. Similarly, most students who switch majors after their junior take longer to graduate—if they manage to graduate at all.
Starting college unsure about your major doesn’t mean you won’t succeed. But staying undecided for a long time without intentionally exploring your options will negatively affect your college success.
Why does being unsure about college majors lead students to drop out?
Let me explain why major indecision decreases a student’s chances of earning their degree. In my years of higher education experience, I’ve made a few important observations.
Here are the three most common reasons I’ve seen for why students drop out, fail out, or transfer out of college:
- They get discouraged after flipping repeatedly from major to major.
- They take classes that don’t fit their unique aptitudes, skill-sets, and strengths.
- They feel overwhelmed by the combination of taking courses, adjusting to college life, and choosing a college major.
That’s what I’ve witnessed while working with college students. And the research backs me up! A UK study reported that almost half of students who dropout of college leave because they don’t enjoy it. Another third leave because it’s too difficult.
The right field of study should be both enjoyable to you and within your realm of academic ability. Many students drop out because they never found the best college major for them.
Even though college is the perfect time for self-exploration, spending too long “just taking classes” to explore your interests will feel like a waste of time. On the other hand, if you have a general career direction—something you’re excited about—you’ll be more motivated to reach your goal.
Notice how I said “general career direction?” It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do. You might pick Business or Science as your general area of focus. There are tons of careers within those industries! Your time in college will help you narrow down which ones are best for you.
And within your area of focus, you might end up switching majors. Perhaps you start as a Business Administration major and decide you want to pursue Marketing instead. Not a problem—that’s an easy switch.
Starting out college with an idea of what direction you’re going in is a major advantage. You’ll more easily reach the finish line, earn your degree, and start a successful career. So let’s talk about how to discover which is the right career focus and college major for you.
What to consider when picking the best college major for you
There are several ways to narrow down your college major options. I’ll suggest four specific self-exploration and career research strategies for you to try.
Examine your interests
We’d all prefer to do work we enjoy, right? After all, you can spend forty years or more in a career. You’ll have a much more pleasant adult life if your career aligns with your interests.
So ask yourself these questions:
- What do you do for fun?
- What topics do you explore just because you find them fascinating?
- What school subjects are most enjoyable to you?
- What types of classes are you most excited to take in college?
- What ideas or topics are you eager to learn about in-depth?
Your answers to these questions should provide you with a few college major options you can explore. Next, look into what those majors entail.
For instance, if you enjoy math in high school, research what a Math major does at one of your favorite colleges. What’s the major description? What classes are on the course list? Do they sound genuinely interesting to you?
Trust me, if you enjoy your college classes, you’re going to do better in them. Even if you don’t have your career figured out just yet, make sure you spend time in college doing and learning what you love.
Ponder your skills and strengths
Next, spend some time thinking about where you naturally excel. Ask yourself the following questions.
- What are you good at?
- What subjects do you succeed the most in?
- What talents do your close friends and family say you possess?
Don’t overlook your people skills, either. Are you good at communicating? Do you have strong empathy, leadership, or collaboration skills? These are strengths and skills that suit certain types of majors and careers.
Look for fields where your strengths and interests align. Are you great at writing and interested in science? Study both in college—there are several careers that combine the two subjects.
A quick reminder here: don’t pick careers or majors only for the salary! The money you make won’t be worth it if you hate your job or struggle every day just to keep up. You’ll find yourself quickly burnt out.
Use your connections to explore potential majors and careers
Do you know anyone connected to the majors or career areas you’re thinking about? Talk to them about their experience.
- What do they do every day?
- What do they like and dislike about their job?
- What was their college major?
- What did they like and dislike about their major?
- Did it prepare them well for their career?
- What suggestions can they give you as you’re about to start college?
If possible, try to shadow someone you know to see their career in action. You might find it’s different than you expect. Any knowledge or experience you can gain to help you narrow down your major and career options is useful.
Research job growth and opportunities
A final task before you commit to a college major—make sure there are opportunities for you in that field.
Let’s say you love writing, and you’re good at it. You want to major in Journalism. But first, you check on the projected job growth for journalist careers. Unfortunately, it’s declining. So maybe you should consider other types of writing careers.
After a bit more research, you realize copywriting and grant writing careers are in high demand. You can look into the types of skills those careers require to decide on the best college major you.
You might end up majoring in Marketing or Communication instead of Journalism or English. But if your major includes enough of what you love to do—which is writing—you’ll be happy and successful in college.
Final thoughts on choosing a college major
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that picking a college major that aligns with your interests, skills, and strengths is a smart move.
Sure, you can consider the advice of teachers and parents who tell you XYZ career is profitable or booming. But remember, it’ll be you sitting in those college classes, not anyone else.
It’s important to like what you study and to be somewhat good at it. The data proves it. And if you follow my advice, your own successful college experience will prove it, too.
I want to hear from you! What college majors are you thinking about? Are you waffling between a few options? What questions and concerns do you have? Drop them in the comments below.