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How to Choose a College Major

What to be or what not to be--that is the question. The answer? It may not be so obvious. . .

As college application season approaches, you need to make an important choice: which major will you declare. While it may not seem like a big deal, this decision will directly affect your entire college application process.

Majors, if you didn’t already know, are what students choose to determine their course of study. All majors have required classes that are specific to their disciplines. By mastering the course load determined by the university or college, you show that you are knowledgeable in that particular subject. You can major in disciplines ranging from Chinese literature to biomedical engineering. In fact, for those who are not quite sure what to select as a major can simply be “undeclared.”

Before you start selecting colleges, you need to know your desired major. It doesn’t make sense to simply apply to universities or colleges based on a holistic national ranking system because different departments within these schools vary. A school that is rated #1 overall may have a weak chemistry department, whereas a school ranked #15 overall may have the best chemistry department. Knowing your major before determining the best schools to apply to will make your application much more appropriate and informed.

So, how exactly should you go about choosing a major? Follow this advice:

1) Choose a major that you actually like.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but many students choose their majors based on many different factors that are not related to personal happiness. You do not necessarily need to select a discipline that is impractical, but do make sure you will be invested in this subject for more than a class or two.

2) Choose a major that matches your strengths.

Strengths does not necessarily mean grades. In other words, do not let your high school report card be what determines your future career and major. Just because you got straight A’s in biology does not mean that you should become a doctor or study viruses in a lab. Your strengths come out in ways that are not shown in a grade. Are you a "people" person? Someone who is business-minded? Someone who enjoys research? Think about yourself in broad terms and then start getting more specific to find the best fit.

3) Choose a major that provides financial stability.

Sometimes the best choice comes down to practicality. In the good old days of university education, any major would more than likely guarantee a well-paying job. However, now that bachelor’s degrees are the new standard in education, more often than not they don't easily yield a high-paying job or even a stable income. That’s not to completely disparage a bachelor’s degree, but you need to be mindful that many humanities majors have a harder time securing financial success when compared to those in science, business, and engineering. Be smart about your college game plan, and if you do decide to choose a less financially secure major, make sure you know the best way to build skills important to the market.

4) Choose a major, even if it may change.

Do not go undeclared. Colleges do not want to see applicants who are not sure about their future career goals. They want students who are assertive and have a plan. Undeclared means that you will spend more time in college “figuring things out” and less time focusing on a discipline and making great strides in that field. Sure, you may change your major -- it happens to the best of us -- but changing from one thing to another is better than having no idea in the first place.

Don't waste time determining your major. Summer will soon be over, so the sooner you figure it out, the better.

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