Applying for college is a tedious process. Arguably, the essay portion is the most challenging for students. With schools offering a broad selection of majors, it’s practically intimidating to select a major out of an immense list posted online. College visits and speaking with current students are great options for getting a glimpse of what particular majors entail but deciding between majors is ultimately up to the student as they type away into their applications.
When I was applying to colleges, I mostly considered my strengths, interests, and finances. I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to feel forced into a particular major due to my ethnicity and family background. I did well in humanities classes like AP English Literature and Composition, was one of the top three national qualifiers in a competitive debate circuit and enjoyed leading peers in multiple organizations. I absolutely knew that I wanted to major in English at particular universities because their liberal arts programs were fairly strong. English, as a major, is made fun of plenty for being “impractical,” but I personally value the art of communication and wanted to continue building my skills.
The first thing a student should consider if they’re absolutely lost is what their strengths are. Make a list of what you’re great at and all you’ve accomplished in high school. If it feels odd to self-reflect, ask close friends and family about how they would describe you as a person and what they consider your accomplishments to be. Of course, an outside perspective is always beneficial when you’re stuck, so don’t be nervous about asking others to review your application material in general.
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From that strength list, determine what majors best match those qualities and experiences. If you’re particularly great in mathematics, consider applying as a Mathematics, Statistics, or Economics major. If you’re amazing at building with your hands and enjoy detailed planning, think about applying as an Urban Studies and Planning major or Architectural Studies major. Keep in mind that some majors will ask for more materials in your application, especially art-focused programs like Film and Media, Photography, or Graphic Design. These will often require submission of a small portfolio of previous work you’ve done, though you’ll likely have these prepared if you’ve identified the work required for these majors as your strengths. Music-based or acting-based majors may also need a portfolio or an audition, depending on the college’s requirements.
Interests can also be useful for deciding on a major. In my experience, I knew that I was interested in working in healthcare but wasn’t good with handling other people’s bodily fluids and injuries, so I decided the summer before my sophomore year that I would apply for a dual degree with Community Health. Originally, I thought that I would do a double major with Integrative Biology, but after I took an introductory course my first semester on campus, I knew that it wasn’t interesting enough for me to keep pursuing. My interests have largely influenced the internships I’ve taken on so far in my college career, but they did play a role in choosing my additional major.
There is a chance that your strength list and interests are exactly the same, and that’s perfectly alright. That often means that you’ll be perfectly comfortable with whichever major you choose that aligns with your strengths. If you have some side interests or hobbies, like environmental activism or creative writing, think about how valuable they are to you as an individual and if they influence your major preferences. It’s possible that you can pick up a minor or a second degree like I did. Once you’re accepted into a college, see if your schedule fits in a general education class that caters to your interests. You’ll fulfill a necessary graduation requirement while figuring out if you’d like to further explore your interests without wasting credit hours.
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Finances are impossible to ignore when you’re deciding which colleges to apply to. At first glance, it may seem like that’s all finances affect, but they also should play a role in deciding what major to take. Don’t try to guess the job market for the year you graduate; instead, ask yourself if you can pay off any potential loans that you may accumulate with the degree you plan to graduate with. If you know what careers you’re interested in, look up their average salaries. Money should not be your only influencer, but neither should your strengths or interests. Collectively considering these three aspects will guide you towards a well-informed decision.
Deciding on a major is a major decision. You can change it once you’re accepted, but preemptively trying to avoid a switch is in a student’s best interest since it ensures that no coursework becomes unrelated for the graduation credit hour count. To stay on track and find a great fit, consider your strengths, interests, and finances when selecting a major.