Choosing a College Major - What Every College Applicant Needs to Know

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Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education

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9 min read

Choosing a College Major - What Every College Applicant Needs to Know

What to Know Before Choosing a Major

Before you choose a major, there are several factors you should consider. These include your interests, strengths, and career goals, as well as the job market and earning potential for your chosen major.

One helpful approach is to start with a self-assessment of your skills, values, and interests. This can help you identify potential majors that align with your passions and aptitudes. You can also take online assessments or work with a career counselor to gain more insight into your strengths and weaknesses.

In addition to your personal interests and abilities, it’s important to research the job market and earning potential for your chosen major. While you shouldn't choose a major based solely on earning potential, it's important to have a realistic understanding of the financial prospects for your chosen career path. You can use online resources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics to research the median salaries and job growth rates for different occupations.

Another important consideration is the academic requirements and prerequisites for your chosen major. Some majors may require specific courses or minimum GPAs, so it’s important to research the requirements early on to ensure that you’re on track to meet them.

How to Choose a Major if You are Undecided

If you’re undecided about your major, you’re not alone. Many college students enter school without a clear idea of what they want to study. Here are some tips to help you explore your options and make a decision:

  1. Take courses in a variety of subjects: One way to explore your interests and find a major that’s right for you is to take courses in a variety of subjects. This can help you discover new passions and gain a broader perspective on different fields.
  2. Engage in extracurricular activities and internships: Extracurricular activities and internships can provide valuable hands-on experience and help you explore potential career paths. Consider volunteering, participating in clubs or organizations, or pursuing internships in different industries.
  3. Seek advice from academic advisors and career counselors: Academic advisors and career counselors can provide guidance and resources to help you make an informed decision about your major. They can help you explore different majors and career paths, identify your strengths and interests, and develop a plan for achieving your goals.

When Should You Choose Your College Major?

The timing of choosing your college major can vary depending on your school and your personal goals. Some students declare their major as soon as they enter college, while others wait until their sophomore or junior year.

One factor to consider when deciding when to choose a major is the academic requirements and prerequisites for your chosen major. Some majors may require specific courses or minimum GPAs, so it’s important to research the requirements early on to ensure that you’re on track to meet them.

Another factor to consider is your personal goals and interests. If you’re certain about your major and have a clear career path in mind, you may want to declare your major early on to gain more focused experience and make the most of your time in college. On the other hand, if you’re still exploring your options and want to take time to learn more about different fields, it may be beneficial to delay declaring a major until you have a better understanding of your interests and strengths.

Does Your College Major Really Matter?

One common question among college students is whether their major really matters in the grand scheme of things. The answer is yes and no.

On one hand, your major can have a significant impact on your future career prospects and earning potential. Some majors, such as engineering, computer science, and business, are associated with higher salaries and more job opportunities than others. On the other hand, many successful professionals have pursued careers outside of their majors and have found success through alternative paths.

Ultimately, what matters most is that you pursue a field that you’re passionate about and that aligns with your strengths and interests. While earning potential and job prospects are important factors to consider, they shouldn’t be the only factors driving your decision.

Does Your Major Affect Your Acceptance?

Your choice of major can impact your acceptance to certain colleges or universities, particularly if you’re applying to highly selective programs. Some programs may have specific requirements or prerequisites for certain majors, or may give preference to applicants who have demonstrated a strong interest in a particular field.

That being said, it’s important to present yourself as a well-rounded applicant and highlight your strengths and accomplishments beyond just your major. Extracurricular activities, internships, and volunteer work can all demonstrate your passion and dedication, regardless of your major.

Do Employers Care What Your Major Is?

While your major can certainly impact your job prospects, employers are often more interested in your skills, experience, and potential than your specific major. Many employers value transferrable skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and teamwork, which can be developed in a variety of majors.

That being said, some employers may have specific preferences or requirements for certain majors, particularly in highly specialized fields. It’s important to research the job market and employer requirements for your chosen field to gain a better understanding of what skills and qualifications are in demand.

Do Jobs Look at Major GPA?

While overall GPA is often an important factor for employers, major GPA can also be a consideration for certain positions. Some employers may place a greater emphasis on coursework and skills specific to the job, which may be reflected in your major GPA.

That being said, employers are often more interested in your overall academic performance and the skills and experience you bring to the table. If you have a strong overall GPA and relevant skills and experience, your major GPA may be less of a concern.

Hardest Undergrad Majors and Least Useful Majors

While it’s important to pursue a major that aligns with your interests and career goals, it’s also important to be aware of the potential challenges and drawbacks of certain majors. Here are some of the hardest undergrad majors and least useful majors, along with potential benefits and drawbacks:

Hardest Undergrad Majors:

  1. Engineering: Engineering is widely considered to be one of the hardest majors due to its heavy workload and challenging coursework.
  2. Physics: Physics majors often face a rigorous curriculum that includes advanced mathematics and theoretical concepts.
  3. Computer Science: Computer science majors must navigate complex programming languages and constantly-evolving technologies.
  4. Pre-Med: Pre-med majors face a highly competitive and demanding curriculum, with the added pressure of preparing for medical school.

4-Year Degrees That Make the Most Money

While earning potential shouldn't be the only factor driving your decision, it's still an important consideration for many students. Here are some 4-year degrees that can lead to high earning potential:

  1. Computer Science: Computer science majors are in high demand and can earn high salaries in fields such as software engineering, data analysis, and cybersecurity.
  2. Business: A degree in business can lead to a variety of high-paying careers, including finance, marketing, and management.
  3. Engineering: Engineering majors can earn high salaries in fields such as civil, mechanical, or electrical engineering.
  4. Nursing: Nurses are in high demand and can earn high salaries, particularly with specialized training and advanced degrees.
  5. Accounting: Accountants are in demand in many industries and can earn high salaries with certifications and advanced degrees.

4-Year Degrees That Make the Least Money

Here are five 4-year degrees that typically lead to lower salaries.

  1. Fine Arts: While a degree in Fine Arts can lead to a fulfilling career in the arts, salaries are often lower than other fields.
  2. Social Work: Social workers may have the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, but the pay is often lower than other professions.
  3. Psychology: While psychology majors can work in a variety of fields, including mental health, research, and education, salaries are often lower compared to other majors.
  4. Theater: Theater majors may have a passion for the arts, but the pay is often low and job opportunities can be competitive.
  5. Early Childhood Education: While a degree in early childhood education can lead to a fulfilling career working with young children, salaries are often lower compared to other education-related fields.

Most Regretted Major

According to recent studies, the most regretted major category among college graduates is English and foreign languages. 42% of respondents with this major said that their degree feels impractical and limits their work opportunities. As such, while this field can be personally fulfilling, it often leads to limited job prospects and lower salaries than other majors. However, it's important to remember that every major has its own benefits and drawbacks, and the key is to pursue a field that aligns with your passions and strengths. As for the least regretted major? Try computer science! Only 12% of graduates regret that major.

Fastest Growing Fields

The fastest growing field currently is healthcare, with increasing demand for healthcare professionals due to an aging population and increasing healthcare needs. Other growing fields include technology, engineering, renewable energy, and sustainability.

Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing a college major can be a complex decision with many factors to consider. It's important to consider your personal interests and goals, as well as the job market and earning potential for your chosen field. By doing your research, exploring your options, and seeking guidance from academic advisors and career counselors, you can make an informed decision about your college major and set yourself up for a fulfilling and successful career.

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