When I was a student, it never failed. As soon as someone learned that I was in college, I knew the question was coming. It didn’t matter who was asking- one of my mom’s friends, a new co-worker at my part-time job, the receptionist at my doctor’s office, or another college student. As soon as those three magic words “I’m a student!” left my mouth, I was immediately asked, “What’s your major?”
Just in case you’re not totally certain what it is, a major is a college student’s main field of specialization during their undergraduate studies. A student takes required courses related to their major in order to earn a degree in that area- along with other required general education courses. For example, while all college students are required to complete basic courses in math and English, an economics major takes most of their other courses in economics while a sociology major takes most of their other courses in sociology.
My degree is called a Bachelor of Music, and my major was music education. I chose this field of study for a few reasons. I took music lessons since I was in elementary school, and I was in the school band and orchestra every year. I loved music, and when my high school graduation was getting close, a few different people started to tell me that teaching would be a good career. This somehow caused me to decide that I should major in music education.
I earned good grades in all of my classes. Once I was near the end of my studies, I had to complete a semester-long student teaching internship and pass various exit exams. That was rather stressful, but I made it through everything with decent reviews, and I even graduated cum laude. Once I had the degree in hand, the world was ready for me- or so I thought.
My beautiful music education degree with the gold cum laude seal that took four and a half years to earn now collects dust in a frame. My teaching career was extremely short-lived … once I realized that I absolutely hated teaching and quit my job.
The professor for my first required course about teaching started out the first class meeting with the words, “If you’re having doubts about becoming a teacher, then it’s probably not right for you.” Oh, how I wish I had listened to that man! Looking back, I want to kick myself.
Choosing a major in college is probably one of the most important decisions that you’re going to have to make, but you shouldn’t let yourself get extremely stressed out over it. I still have a college degree that has helped me out in my current career, but I wish I had done things differently. I wish I had spent more time volunteering in school classrooms than I did. That might have helped me realize that teaching wasn’t for me long before it was too late.
If you spend some time researching the careers that you think you’re interested in, you could wind up saving yourself a lot of time and money. You don’t have to declare a major on Day One of college. In fact, some schools do not even allow students to declare an official major until they have completed one or two years of school.
#1. Make a list of your interests and decide if you could possibly see yourself doing any of these things for the rest of your life. I loved music and I still do, but I also enjoy writing and photography and graphic design and accounting … had I pursued any of these ideas back when I was in school, I may have wound up earning a degree that would have been a bit more useful. (In fact, when I returned to school recently, it was to begin studying graphic design.)
#2. Speak with people that work in the fields you are interested in, and if possible spend a day or two with someone at work. This will allow you to get a feel for their job. Most people love to talk about their career and would be glad to have you watch or even help out for a day.
#3. If you liked what you heard or what you saw, think about the possibility of doing an internship in that field. An internship is a temporary position to gain work-related experience. Even if you do a week-long unpaid internship, it might be a huge help!
#4. If possible, sit in on a few different college classes related your possible majors. Most professors don’t mind if students occasionally bring a visitor to class with them, so tag along with a friend and see what goes on in class! If you’re still in high school (or an older adult contemplating returning to or starting college) your prospective colleges will probably be happy to arrange for you to visit the campus and sit in on a few classes.
#5. Browse through college catalogs for a few different schools to see what classes the different majors require. The number of required credits varies from major to major.
Just realize that a major is not the same thing as a career. Nothing is set in stone. I know several people that majored in business, and they have jobs at both ends of the spectrum. I know people who (like me) have a degree in a field totally unrelated to their current career. Some people know that they want to go on to graduate school, so they choose their major based on that fact.
Choose the major that is right for you – not for your parents or your friends – but try to choose that major wisely!
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.