What should I major in?

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The following question came from Jason at Columbia Basin College:

I’m in college taking classes. I originally started studying for Accounting but I decided not to when I realized that I struggle with math. I have been taking general education classes that allow me to keep my options open. But the time has come, and I MUST decide on a major now. I have been taking classes toward a general AA transfer degree but am realizing that it makes A LOT more sense to chip away at classes that will emphasize my major. For example: I am about to take an astronomy class to satisfy a humanities requirement, but, if I were to major in business, it might make more sense to take a math class or something.
My question to you is…. What should I major in?

Hi Jason – now THAT is a big question with a lot of possible answers.

My first answer might not sound to helpful, but hang with me through it, and I think you will see it as a good starting point.

Answer #1:  Major in a subject you enjoy and find interesting  

You are earning a college degree for a variety of reasons.  Chief among them, I would bet, is so that you will be able to get a better job than you would be able to get without a college degree.  Am I right?

Unless you have a very specific career field in mind (say, accounting, computer engineering, nursing or any other specific professional field that requires specific educational preparation), your undergraduate major itself is not that important.  So,study subjects that interest you. Do that and you will have the energy, discipline  and inspiration to read the books, write the papers, complete the projects and study for the tests.  It will be fun. Study subjects that don’t interest you and all of that work will feel like . . . well, it will feel like work that doesn’t interest you (and how motivating is that?).

As many as two-thirds of people with Bachelor’s degrees are working in jobs not directly related to their undergraduate major, so majoring in one subject and eventually working in something else is normal.

Take this advice in context! If you want to be a doctor, you’re going to have to get a degree in medicine and if you want to be a architect, you are going to have to get a degree in architecture.  But there are many careers that do not directly align with specific college majors.

Remember, beyond you major field of study – your college degree is going to help you develop your writing and public speaking skills, your ability to think critically and make persuasive arguments, and your ability to manage and motivate people; all of which will help you in whatever career(s) you pursue.

Answer #2:  Regardless of your major, getting your general education requirements out of the way early is a good idea

Ask your academic adviser about this!  The more general ed requirements you can get out of the way in junior college/community college, the more you will be able to focus  on major requirements (and maybe even save some money) when you get to your 4-year school.  Just make sure that the classes you are taking will transfer when you do.  Also, use your general ed requirements (when possible) to sample potential majors.    Your general ed requirement give you a solid foundation on which you can build your major, regardless of the  major you choose – and you want a solid foundation!

Answer #3:  Regardless of your major, taking some classes in business is a good idea

Everything in life – on some levels – is a business, so you need to understand the fundamentals of business.  Knowing how to build and manage a budget,  monitor income versus expenses, and read, understand and negotiate agreements and contracts is really important regardless of the career path you choose.  A minor in business (or at least some coursework in business) can benefit everyone!

Answer #4: What you do outside the classroom is just as important as what you are doing inside the classroom

Studying hard and making good grades is important, but a Bachelor’s degree with a high GPA does not guarantee you a job.  You need to put your education to work through part-time jobs, internships, service projects/volunteering, etc. so that you can apply what you are learning in the classroom in meaningful ways outside the classroom, demonstrate your ability to function productively in a workplace, test drive potential careers, and meet potential employers.  Then you want to work with your career adviser to connect the dots between what are are doing in the classroom and what you are doing outside the classroom.

Connect those dots and your career options will become more and more clear.

Hope this helps!

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3 responses to “What should I major in?”

  1. Mariesa Herrmann says:

    As an economist, I have a different perspective. My advice would be:

    First, figure out what your skills are. Are you good at dealing with people, working with computers, putting things together? If you’re not sure, take an aptitude test or ask people you know.

    Second, research occupations that value those skills and determine which ones interest you. What would you being doing on a daily basis? How much do they pay, and what hours would you be expected to work? Are these jobs available in the places you want to live, and what is the outlook for this type of job? What is the career path for someone in these occupations? Once you figure out what occupations interest you, find out what kind of training is required for those jobs. For example, look at job ads and see what majors they prefer.

    Third, pick a major that will help you get one of those jobs. Take on jobs or activities outside of school that are relevant to this field. The job market is tough, and taking courses/participating in the field will give you an advantage relative to other job applicants.

    While many people work in areas that are not directly related to their undergraduate major, it’s not clear that all of this is by choice: some people take work in other fields because they cannot find work in their chosen fields. You don’t want to end up with thousands of dollars in student loans, only to find out that there are no jobs for people with your degree. And while you can always re-train, it’ll be easier if you start thinking about careers now.

    Good luck!

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