How to Choose the Right College Major: Tips for High Schoolers and College Underclassmen

You're not alone. Many people struggle with choosing the right college major for them! There are lots of factors that go into picking a major, and they can be pretty intimidating. The good news is that this article will provide some advice and hopefully relieve some of the pressure!

You don't need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life as a high schooler.

There's so much pressure and stress being put on high school students right now to know the answers to these questions, but it's not realistic or necessary. The possibilities are endless, so there's no need to feel locked down by any one path at such a young age. Now is the time to explore multiple fields (breadth) while also honing in on a particular interest (depth). This will allow you to learn more about yourself and what you do and don't like to do. You can change your mind later if it makes sense for you!

Your interests will likely change during college because there will be new experiences and different environments that open up doors for exploration in areas that weren't previously available during high school. Your interests may also shift after graduation as you gain exposure to new working environments. You may start to consider how the type of work you do aligns (or misaligns) with your lifestyle goals, and make adjustments from there.

Most people change career paths (multiple times even!)

You may have heard the statistic that most people change career paths multiple times in their lives, and it's true! The average worker stays in their current job for only four years. So while you might think that your major will determine what you do forever, that's not necessarily true.

Some of the most famous people changed career paths multiple times: Steve Jobs worked as a technician at Atari before starting Apple, Oprah Winfrey was a news anchor before becoming a talk show host and later creating her own network, Barack Obama was an attorney before becoming a politician and President of the United States, Albert Einstein was an aspiring patent clerk before he became one of history's greatest geniuses... and so on!

Having a solid foundation in one area can help prepare you for that specific industry–but being interdisciplinary is even better. When you are able to recognize connections between concepts, you can generate better ideas and solve problems more creatively. You may find that you can apply what you learned from one area to a seemingly unrelated area!

For example, I now run a business to coach students with their college applications. But most of my early life was spent practicing visual and performing art, and at Stanford, I studied design thinking and computer science. That doesn't mean that what I spent learning for so many years is now a waste of time. I actually apply what I learned in multiple fields to my current business all the time! I use my skill in artistic design when designing my website and my branding. I use my public speaking skills when filming videos. And I use my knowledge of computer science when building automation. You will come to realize that everything is connected, even if it doesn't seem like it right now.

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Should you apply to college as "Undecided"?

If you're applying to highly competitive universities, it's best not to apply as "Undecided." Admissions offices are looking for students who have strong passions and goals in mind, even if they are still vague. So in admissions, you don't want to seem scattered or like you lack direction. It helps if your application demonstrates a cohesive theme or through-line. You can do this by forming connections between your activities, essays, and your prospective major.

Some majors are more competitive than others

It's important to keep in mind that the competitiveness of a major depends on the school itself. The most competitive majors at one school could be less competitive than those at another, due to factors like how selective the college is, how many people apply for those majors each year, and how many spots they have for those majors. Make sure to do online research into each of the schools you are applying to learn which majors are more or less competitive!

Use your interests and extracurriculars to determine a college major.

The first step to choosing the right college major is to take a look at your existing interests and extracurriculars. Where do you tend to spend most of your time? What activities are most enjoyable? Which activities spark the most curiosity? Notice the patterns that emerge from this process.

The next step is to look through the college classes available within each field of study you are interested in. Take note of which ones sound most appealing; this can help narrow down which major might be right for you.

The last step is to explore the career options that may be available after graduation. Check out job descriptions and pay rates for those jobs. But keep in mind that pay rates are only one factor in this decision.

Choose a major and career path that aligns with your values.

If you've chosen a major based on what other people want for you or what seems like an easy path to success, then it might be time to rethink your decision. It's important to choose a major and career path that aligns with your values, because it is YOUR time and energy that will be spent pursuing this field. The last thing you want is for your major or job to feel like something you hate doing every day!

If you're not sure what your values are, it's a good idea to start by thinking about the kind of lifestyle you want to live. What types of activities do you enjoy doing in your free time? Do you like working with your hands, communicating with others, solving problems, or writing creatively? What kind of work would allow you to pursue these passions?

Use college to explore classes in multiple fields of interest.

In college, you want to gain both breadth and depth of knowledge in different fields. This will allow you to figure out what areas interest or intrigue you, as well as those that don't appeal to your interests at all. You may even discover new subjects that interest you more than you originally thought. It can also help steer away from majoring in something just because it's popular with others around you.

Changing your major in college

Changing your major in college is a perfectly normal thing to do. In fact, it's estimated that between 25% and 50% of college students change their majors at least once during their undergraduate years.

If you're thinking about changing majors, there are some things to consider before making your decision:

1) How flexible is the school? Some schools require students to stay in the same program and curriculum all four years; other schools are more flexible and allow students to change their focus as needed. You'll want to research each school on its requirements for changing majors--particularly if this would impact financial aid eligibility or graduation dates.

2) Are there prerequisites for different degrees? For example, if you are switching to an engineering degree but are missing math requirements, you will need to rearrange your schedule. Depending on how deep into college you are, you may need extra quarters or semesters to complete your new major.

Changing your major in college

I hope this has helped you to understand the importance of choosing a college major that aligns with your interests and values. College is a time to explore different career paths and test out new ideas. You don't need to know what job or career path you want at age 17 or 18, but choosing a major that aligns with your current interests is a smart way to go!