If you are intentional about your academic career, then your degree, regardless of your actual major, will be a valuable asset to your brand. Since your degree is an asset to your brand (not the other way around) you have a lot more flexibility than you would expect.
I understand that the process of picking the right major can be stressful. You feel like a lot is riding on this decision and in a lot of ways you are right. What you choose to study will shape your academic career.
With that being said, you are not locked into a certain career path because of your major. You can change your mind about what you want to do with your life post-graduation or near the end of graduation without having to change your major! Your life is not over if you decide at the end of 4 years you want to do Y instead of Z!
Why? You might ask.
Because your degree is in service of your brand. It’s there to show employers what unique skills and talents you have to bring to the table. That means if you are biology major and decide to go into politics your senior year, you do NOT have to change your major. You can still be active on the political stage with a background in STEM. If anything, having a background in STEM may give you a home-field advantage when advocating for STEM programs in low-income high schools.
If you study electrical engineering and decide you want to go into journalism. That is also okay! Your background will give you an inherent advantage when writing about technical pieces. You are more likely to be assigned the more technical and challenging pieces because you understand the lingo.
Your degree is a part of your brand. Now the question becomes how to choose a major that best accentuates your brand.
Well, let’s break that down.
Even though I am a strong proponent of not identifying yourself by your degree, I do understand the practical aspects of choosing a major and being wise in your decision. Education is an investment and I want you to make the most of that investment. Choosing the right degree is critical in maximizing your academic experience. What you study does matter, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.
It matters inherently. Think about it. Why else would you invest so much time, energy, effort, and finances otherwise? I know choosing a major is stressful and can be cumbersome. Remember choosing a degree is a process of self-discovery so be patient with yourself, but don’t let go of that sense of urgency. Time is of the essence.
You don’t have to know RIGHT NOW
My first piece of advice is that you do not need to know your major immediately. If you are fresh out of high school or just transferred from a community college, you’re still probably figuring things out. Your first step in narrowing things down is looking at what each college offers.
Back up: If you go to a smaller college or university, this piece of advice will not apply to you. Smaller institutions typically do not have various colleges housed within them. However, if you go to a larger university like the University of Houston, University of Texas or Texas A&M, then these universities have different colleges housed within them. For example, the College of Business, College of Liberal Arts, the College of Music, the College of Engineering, and the list goes on.
Your university may have 5-8 different colleges. Look at the characteristics of each college on a macro level and follow your gut to narrow down your options.
Start by eliminating things you don’t like. For instance, if you know you are not interested in music and you don’t want to do more math than you have to, then the College of Music and College of Math and Science is probably off your list. It’s easier to figure out what you don’t like than it is to figure out what you do like.
If you haven’t already fulfilled all the prerequisites using Advanced Placement credits, International Baccalaureate credits, dual credit, or community college credit, take unique prerequisites. Maybe instead of taking English 101 to fulfill your English requirement, you can take a class on creative writing or poetry. The idea is to give yourself as much exposure as possible to what the different colleges may offer without wasting time or additional resources.
Talk to students from different colleges/majors
Large universities are made up of smaller colleges. These colleges house different disciplines. If you are unsure about what to major in then talk to different students from different colleges. (If you go to a smaller college or university then talk to different majors and pick their brain.)
Why did they pick this major other than that major? What did they like about such-and-such major? What were their pitfalls? Opportunities? Here’s a list of 20 questions to ask other college students about their major if you’re not sure what to ask. The goal of asking these questions is to learn about their experiences in the various disciplines and how it may relate to your experience.
Talk to your academic advisor
Your academic advisor has talked to many, many students from various academic disciplines. They have a lot of wisdom and insight that can help you make an informed decision. Your academic advisor works for you and they are on your side! Take time to ask your advisor about what type of students tend to perform well in which majors. How often do they see students switching from various programs? Which majors tend to be the most challenging and why? The bottom line is that you need to use your academic advisor as a resource.
I know I talked to my academic advisor extensively during my time at Bauer. She helped me navigate which classes and programs would be in my best interest and really tailor my higher education experience. If you use your academic advisor as a reference, they can do the same thing for you!
Talk to your career advisor
Your career advisor also works for you! They want to see you be successful. They have talked to a multitude of students as well from various academic backgrounds and helped them establish the beginning of their post-graduation career.
Talk to them. Often.
They can help you investigate degree plans from another perspective. Your career advisor wants to help you transition successfully into a post-graduation career. They can help you identify the skills necessary to be competitive in the field. That insight can inform which degree you finally end up pursuing.
Do research on LinkedIn
Look at some of your role models and recent college alums on LinkedIn. Where are they now and what did they study in college?
Also, do some research on the company pages. If you look at the profile for Company X and you see that a lot of recent grads who were hired by Company X majored in A, B, C and D, that information may influence your decision.
Use LinkedIn as a resource to help you make an educated decision. What you find on LinkedIn does not have to be the end-all-be-all. Simply allow it to be a factor in your decision-making process to make the best choice for you.
Talk to your study abroad advisor
I strongly encourage all students to study abroad! Whether it’s for a summer, semester or just a week. Studying abroad is an excellent way to compliment your academic career.
Bonus: did you know you can do internships abroad? Seriously! Imagine the boost to your resume alone! Not to mention the cultural immersion and exposure. You can also do medical and religious missions abroad as well.
Some degrees are more flexible than others when it comes to transferring credit and partnerships with various institutions. Talking to your study abroad advisor can give you valuable insight as well.
I wrote an article about how to study abroad on a budget. You can check out my video about my experience in Seoul South Korea and my article about a layover adventure in Vancouver, Canada! I also provide extra insight on how to study abroad as a woman. Honestly, if you need more help or would like more insight into how I did it, please reach out! I’d love to share more tips and tricks.
Join a student organization
There are many student organizations for specific disciplines and majors. Joining these organizations requires little commitment and gives you a lot of exposure to what a specific major may be able to offer you in terms of employment opportunities. Just because you join an organization dedicated to a specific major does not mean you have to declare that major. It’s simply a research opportunity for you!
Talk to professors
Talk to professors who teach important keystone courses of a degree. For example, if you are planning on majoring in Finance, then talk to a professor who teaches Corporate Finance. If you are thinking about majoring in Graphic Design then talk to a professor who teaches Adobe. The point is to talk to a professor who basically teaches the epicenter of what that degree is about.
Ask them about their experience teaching the course and typically what type of students perform better in those classes. The goal is to get their take on what type of students are more successful in that discipline. You want to identify specific characteristics and see if you share those traits.
In addition, you want to learn more about that class. If you’re talking to a professor of an infamous weed out course, it would behoove you to find out why it is considered a weed out class and if that is something you’d be willing to endure for that degree.
Study the degree plan
Print out a good old fashion copy of your degree plan and take a close look at it. Really study the degree plan and the courses required to earn that degree. Look up the course description of each of those classes and ask yourself if that sounds like something you actually want to do. It’s okay to rely on gut instinct on this one. Some classes sound more appealing than others and looking at the degree plan is a great place to start.
Also, keep your timeline in mind. If you have plans of graduating in four years, some majors lend itself to graduating on time more easily. If certain majors are notorious for throwing students off track, that can also influence your decision.
Organize your top 5 majors by colleges and prerequisites
After all of this, you still might have a big list of majors that interest you. That’s okay! Narrowing down your options will take time, but you are off to a great start already.
Organize your majors by colleges. If your institution is smaller, then organize them by prerequisites. It’s easier to switch majors from the same college than different colleges because majors in the same college typically share similar prerequisites. Organizing the majors you’re interested in this way can help you narrow down your choices and reduce anxiety.
Your life is not at stake and you can change your mind later.
The last step to choosing a major is actually choosing one. Seriously! You must commit!
Sometimes this is the hardest part. Picking a major does not mean you are stuck in a specific career path forever. That is not the case, I promise. You always have options and flexibility to tailor your academic and post-academic career.
That’s why you should meet with your academic and career advisor on a regular basis. They can help you tailor your academic experience.
Like I said earlier, Your degree is an asset to your skill set and experiences. Your degree does not define you. You define your degree so it is okay, encouraged and expected for you to commit.
What was your experience picking a major? How long did it take you to narrow down your options? Personally, I knew I wanted to study Liberal Arts and Marketing basically since I stepped on campus. That’s not everyone’s experience though.
Share your thoughts below! As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments.