Choosing a major is more complicated than just following your heart … or the Occupational Outlook Handbook. While a college education isn’t necessarily vocational training, 7 out of 10 college seniors graduate with student loan debt. Most will have to consider their ability to earn a living after they graduate.
Ideally, you want to study subjects that excite you and set you up for a successful career — but that’s easier said than done. Here’s how to balance those two needs, and choose a major that’s right for you.
- Learn what you love.
“Love your job, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s not just a tired old cliché. Sure, there’s more to selecting a major or a career than just finding something you’re passionate about, but that’s also really not a bad place to start.
Work is work sometimes, even when you love your job. But, taking some time to really think about what you like to do, what excites you, what gives you energy, what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, is an important part of selecting your major. Part of the reason you’ve decided to go to school is so you’d have options for your future. So, try to work toward choosing a path that will make you happy.
- Do your homework, and know your trajectories.
Focusing on studying what you love is a great place to start, but it’s always good to know where these paths could potentially lead. Use PayScale’s Research Center to do some homework about potential careers and compensation, and explore career trajectories using the Career Path Explorer. Additionally, PayScale’s College ROI Report compares Best Value Colleges by Major. Spending some time exploring these resources should help you on your quest. Remember that when considering potential majors, it’s good to think about where you’d like to be professionally in a decade or more. So be sure to do your homework and think about the bigger picture.
- Question assumptions.
Unfortunately, some of our ideas about career come not from within, but from the people around us. The messages we get in school, in our communities, and in our families, can lead us toward career paths that might not be the best choice for us.
So, if you’ve had some long-held idea about your career, be sure to step back and examine whether or not it’s really what you want. Similarly, be sure to be open-minded about your options. We go to college so that we can have a vast range of opportunities; don’t squander that by limiting yourself in any way. Do some real soul-searching and take the time to question the beliefs and assumptions you’re bringing to the table about career. It could go a long way toward landing you on a path that’s really your heart’s desire.
- Run some tests.
It’s important to try on different majors for size rather than committing to one blindly. Take some introductory courses in areas that might be of interest to you. You’ll likely be able to knock off some core class requirements this way, and you’ll get a taste for several different options. Remain open-minded throughout this process. Some areas of study might not be what you expected.
- Understand your strengths.
Understanding your strengths (and your weaknesses) could help you pick the major that’s right for you. Taking inventory not just of the things you love to do but also of the areas in which you show natural aptitude, could help land you on a fun and successful path. Maybe you know that you’re passionate about helping others, for example, and that you have a natural aptitude for writing and speaking. In this case, perhaps majoring in education would be a good path for you. Of course we’re always working to build new skills and strengths, especially when we’re in school. But, it doesn’t hurt to go with the grain a little when it comes to picking a major.
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