‘What will you major in?” is one of the first questions we tend to ask a college bound high school senior. However, It’s a loaded question and almost unfair. How many of us knew, at 18 years old, what career path we wanted to pursue? Not many of us, and for as many freshman that know what they would like to major in there is the equal amount that has no idea, selecting ‘undecided’ on their college applications.
The reality is that almost all these incoming college students, regardless of whether they declared a major or were ‘undecided’ will change their major several times over the four years they are on campus. Naturally, there are pros and cons to changing too often, the worst of which translates into a longer stay on campus to fulfill graduation requirements, and additional costs for those extra credits. On the flip side the student has explored what originally was an interest to find it not interesting enough to make a career out of it.
Students who know exactly what they will major in once in college are pursuing an established passion in the arts, sciences or humanities. Their transcript and extra curricular activities will be a testament to this passion be it in sports, on the stage, or in the classroom, and they will apply to schools that have strong programs in those subject areas. Even this group of students will change their majors before graduating.
Undecided applicants can narrow down their list of colleges by turning the classic question of ‘what will I major in’ around and ask themselves ‘what major best suits my interests, abilities, values and passions?’ Do I see myself doing this in 5, 10, or even 20 years? And the big question: can I earn a living doing this? There are a few other questions to consider. The answers to these will steer the student towards the colleges and universities with programs in the areas of study that reflect the applicants interests.
Of all the options available, there are several majors that tend to be the most popular thanks to their employment potential, but may not be the best fit for everyone. Engineering, and related fields, continues to be one with the highest starting salaries, while the lowest starting salaries attributed to these fields.
In some cases these ‘undecided’ students discover a new passion during their freshman or sophomore years and find themselves needing to transfer to another school that offers a stronger, more in-depth program in that subject. Transferring should never be a student’s safety net, but if another school has a stronger program then there might not be any choice but to change.
Except for a few Ivy League schools, most colleges will require students to complete a core curriculum before being able to fully focus on the subject they are majoring in. Spread out over the first two years of school, these curricula offer students a chance to explore different areas of study before declaring a major. It is during this period that many drop out of their intended major for any number of reasons. Note: Students should look at the 4-year course plans for the major they are interested in before making that final decision.
Much like selecting a college for both its academic and personal fit, a major should be something you enjoy studying and which will allow you to have a fulfilling career.