How to Choose the Right Major

Ingram Publishing / Getty Images

With the high cost of college tuition, it is imperative to choose your major wisely. Some students enter college knowing what occupation they want to pursue and choose a major based on that career objective. Others don't have a clear career path and study a subject that will give them the skills they need to pursue a variety of occupations or obtain the foundation they need to get a graduate degree.

Choosing a Major Based on Your Career Objective

An occupation may require a degree in a specific major. For example, to become an accountant, you would have to major in accounting; to become a physical therapist, your major would be physical therapy. These areas of study teach skills that are essential to performing these jobs.

For other occupations, students have more leeway in what they can study, but there are limitations. To be an actuary, for instance, one can major in mathematics, actuarial science, business, or statistics. Aspiring conservationists also have a variety of choices, including biology, agronomy, agricultural science, or rangeland management.

When a Major Isn't Specified

A college degree is required or preferred for some careers, but what you study is entirely up to you. Students who don't have to choose a specific major can choose one based on their interests. They can also select a major that will give them the necessary skills to succeed in a variety of occupations.

Students who enter college without a solid career plan should select a major that prepares them for a variety of occupations or graduate school. By taking general education courses during the first years of college, students can easily change majors if they select a major that requires a specific area of study.

Consider these points for your future career:

  • If you've chosen a career, know what the educational requirements are, and select a major accordingly.
  • If you haven't chosen a career, select a major that is flexible and can give you valuable soft skills.
  • If you've chosen a career, take some elective courses that complement your major, such as a computer language, public speaking, or writing.

Considerations for Selecting a Major

When selecting a major, it is important to consider certain aspects of a field of study, such as your interests, your ability to do well and the job outlook, to determine if it is the right career path for you.

Career Interests

If you are considering a particular major because it is a requirement for your career path, it is hopefully something that interests you. If it doesn't, it might be prudent to either reconsider your occupation or determine if there are alternative areas of study that interest you more. It will be nearly impossible to do well in school while studying something that bores you.

Chances of Success at Obtaining the Degree

The area of study you are considering may seem interesting, but consider if earning the degree is realistic. For example, to earn a business degree with a major in marketing, you will also need to take and excel at accounting, economics, and statistics classes. If you are weak in mathematics, you may find these courses difficult and not get the high grades required to succeed in this field of study.

Chances of Finding Employment

When determining your career path, make sure to select a major that not only fits your interests and aptitude but increases your chances of finding employment that relates to your chosen career. Research degrees held by people in your area of interest.

Majors That Offer More Than One Career Opportunity

Some individuals choose majors solely based on an interest in the course material. It is especially common with liberal arts subjects. While it's important to have an interest in the subject matter, it's also important to connect your education with your career goals. Find out what graduates who studied in this area have gone on to do. Then make sure at least one of those options, if not more, are suitable careers for you.

Other Benefits of the Major

Consider if your major will lock you into a certain career or if it will prepare you for alternative options in case you want to change careers in the future. In addition to attaining hard skills, also known as technical skills, also amass valuable soft skills, such as communication, leadership, and time management. They will be useful and serve as a good foundation in any career.

Graduate School

Consider whether you can get a good job solely with your undergraduate degree. Some majors have minimal opportunities for those who have only a bachelor's degree and also require a graduate degree. If yours does, find out if a particular area of undergraduate study is required for admission to graduate school and choose your major based on that information.

Useful Resources

When researching careers, a reliable source is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS provides extensive career information such as job outlook, median annual salary, required education and skills, and links to similar careers. This information can greatly assist you in determining a career that's right for you based on your abilities, interests, and goals.

Payscale is another resource that offers the latest career information, such as median annual and hourly salary, job description, and required skills.

In addition, many colleges and universities offer career counseling services for students looking to make the best decision for their future.