Most children love to play with doctor’s kits and fireman suits and other “occupational” toys, but some people truly know what they want to be when they grow up from a young age. For others, the decision isn’t quite so easy. Do a bit of research and ask yourself the following questions before declaring your major.
Once you’re in college and think you’re ready to declare your major, ask yourself why you want to pick that particular field of study. Are you considering education because you think having the summers off sounds great? Maybe you’re considering entering the medical field or engineering because your mom is a nurse or your dad is an engineer and they both seem happy after coming home from work. When you begin to consider potential majors, ask yourself why. Making a decision based on other people’s suggestions or opinions has a tendency to backfire.
Once you have a potential major in mind, consider your current knowledge of the subject. In some cases, prior experience is an absolute necessity because auditions, a portfolio showcasing your work, or a separate application is required. For example, if you’ve never designed a logo or painted a picture or created a website template, graphic design may not be your strong point.
Ready to declare your major? Before you do, consult the school course catalog and sit down with an academic advisor to determine just what you’ll need to do to earn that degree. Are there any prerequisites that you need to meet before you can start taking classes within that major? Will you be able to graduate on schedule as planned? Keep in mind that internships are recommended in some cases but mandatory in others. Will graduate school be required once you earn your bachelor’s degree?
Accrediting organizations set standards that must be met, but some colleges and universities are better known for certain programs than others. Just because your college doesn’t have a famous reputation or a number one ranking doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “bad” in a particular area, but do your homework before signing up to study. Are classes taught by professors or TAs? Do the professors have the highest degrees possible in the field, as well as real world experience? If possible, meet with current seniors within that major or recent program graduates and ask them their honest opinion of the pros and cons.
Even if you’re absolutely certain that majoring in archeology or sociology is the route you’re destined to take, sit back for a moment and picture how you see yourself five or even ten years after graduation. Chances are, you want to have a decent-paying job that will allow you to pay off any student loan debts while supporting a fairly comfortable lifestyle. Some college majors—such as nursing or education—have a definite job attached to them, but that’s not true in all cases. What type of career path are you considering with that sociology degree?
Once you have a few potential jobs or careers in mind, visit our Career Profiles or the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for job outlook information. Are those jobs in demand in your area, or are unemployment rates high? If the odds are stacked against you, there’s a chance you could wind up jobless despite your college degree.
They say money can’t buy happiness, but it is a necessity if you want to support yourself financially. Some industries pay considerably more than others. Will you be able to earn a decent living with any of the jobs that your major could help you land?
Selecting a college major because a relative recommends it or you assume it will help you earn the big bucks might cause big problems. You could wind up changing your major after a few semesters, causing you to pay for more classes because you’ll need to stay in school longer. Or you could grin and bear it, earn your degree, and get stuck with a job you absolutely hate. You might even take a lower-paying job in another field because you can’t stand the thought of being a teacher or a nurse or whatever else.
College is a big commitment, and an expensive one at that. Ask yourself plenty of questions before you decide to earn a degree in any major to make sure it’s right for you.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
Have something to say? Feel free to add comments or additional information.