Choosing a college major can be a stressful process. Here on our campus, students are getting ready to finalize their major decisions, and there is definitely a general air of concern surrounding the process. While many colleges and universities require different declaration timelines — some strongly recommend declaring before entering while others like University of California Santa Cruz allow you to wait until your third year before formally declaring — the process can be stressful regardless of timing.
Whether you are still in high school or currently in college, I hope the following tips help you!
1. IT’S OKAY TO BE CONFUSED
You’re in college (or about to enter college) — of course you’re going to feel confused. Sure, you might have entered college with an already developed passion for something, which is completely wonderful! It is also wonderful, however, to not know what you wish to focus on. This is a time period to try different things and determine what you like and don’t like. I would start with making a list of all the majors you’re considering. This list might initially contain two or twelve or twenty options — this is all fine. Your goal is not to focus on the number of options but instead on your reasons for putting them on your list in the first place. From there, you can begin to narrow your list of college majors down.
Also, depending on your college, it is possible to change majors. I switched majors as a junior to a field completely different than the one I began in. At the time of my switch, I had fulfilled all but two of my old major’s requirements and had completed all of one of my new major’s many requirements. This, of course, was daunting, but, ultimately, possible.
2. YOUR COLLEGE MAJOR DOES NOT DETERMINE YOUR LIFE
In some ways, declaring my college major (the first time) felt like stamping myself with a label. I was no longer Em, generic high school graduate and confused college student, but now Em, the still confused but now STEM college student. When meeting me, people would ask for two pieces of information: 1) my name and 2) my major. This habit only added to the idea that my identity = my major. This is not true. Your major is not your life.
As a freshman, I had no idea where I wanted to focus my studies. I had the misconception that the courses I chose freshman year would determine my major, which would then decide my career and thus fate. Really, then, the first week of school — move in day, even! — would set my fate in utterly unmovable stone.
Of the Stanford MBA Program‘s Class of 2019 profile, less than 20% were business majors in their undergraduate institutions and 44% majored in the Humanities/Social Sciences. Similarly, 29% of Harvard Medical School‘s Class of 2020 majored in something other than science. In short — your major does not prevent you from pursuing a certain career path in the future. Don’t box yourself into a major because you think it will help you get into so and so school or so and so career. If you are miserable doing it, then, realistically, how likely is it that you’ll even want to apply to said school or career once you’ve graduated?
3. INTRO COURSES
If your study plan allows it, it’s helpful to take or even audit courses in subjects you might not have had the option to explore in high school. My freshman year, I took a variety of courses, which I found helpful not because I discovered my “life’s passion” but because I discovered I didn’t like some subjects. Deciding you don’t like something is just as valuable as finding something you love.
4. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL RESOURCES
You have access to professors in your considered departments. Try emailing them for a quick chat or visit their office hours to ask them about their own experience. We all have a lot to learn from their experiences navigating their own undergraduate and post graduate challenges. Also, if your college has associated graduate programs, reach out to any graduate students to hear from people closer to your process.
This is all in addition to seeking out help from any advising resources your school might offer. If your school has department heads or major advisors, great! Reach out to them and try to get a sense for the department. Are they welcoming to undergraduate students? Does the department offer seminars or large lecture courses? How many requirements are there and how flexible are they? These are all questions to consider, as they can play a large part in your success.
5. LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVES
Try combining majors or forging your own plan of study if you don’t find a major that quite suites your interests. Locate a professor whose interests are at least semi-aligned with your own and speak with them about their studies. They will most likely be able to point you to resources or, at the very least, recommend courses related to your interests. From there, you can introduce yourself to the professors teaching those courses and build your network until you’ve established a sizable support base.
I hope this helped some of you. Choosing your college major is a daunting process. It sometimes feels like everyone knows exactly what they’re going to study the moment they’ve sprung from the womb. I promise you — more people are just as confused as you are than not. Choosing your college major is, yes, an important decision, but it is a decision that can be reversed and does not determine your life. Follow your instincts, as they’re most likely right.