Whether you’re applying to colleges or are already a college student, you are no stranger to the topic of focusing your studies. In other words, declaring a major. Selecting a college major is an important decision that will impact your future employment options and therefore can feel like an overwhelming and impossible choice. You might even be afraid to declare a major for fear of changing your mind or feeling stuck in that course of study.
You Are Not Alone
Hesitation and uncertainty about choosing a college major is more common and developmentally appropriate than you might imagine.
You are in good company with other students who are struggling to pinpoint a major fresh out of high school or in their first year of college. Feeling uncertain about your course of study and future career options is not only a common occurrence but one that is understandable because there are so many learning and career choices available to you. At nearly any liberal arts college, there are dozens of different majors to choose from that can change the landscape of your working adulthood. Cornell College, for example, offers more than 50 academic majors and programs.
As you select one path to follow, you are essentially closing off all of the other courses of study and the opportunities that those majors offer, which can be a very overwhelming feeling. In the recent job market where work may not even be available within your chosen field, this is an especially daunting prospect when the cost of college and the amount of debt students carry after graduation is so high.
College Students Change Majors – It’s a Fact
It is no wonder, then, that experiencing a change of heart and subsequently a change in major is a common phenomenon among college undergraduates. Longitudinal data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that about one-third of bachelor’s students changed their majors at least once during the first three years of their undergraduate studies, and nine percent of students changed their majors multiple times.
Here are some reasons why you might be having trouble picking a major:
- Until you left home to attend college, your interests and opportunities were heavily influenced by your family, teachers and peers.
- You likely had studied only core subjects during your formative education so have not been exposed to all of the other disciplines that are available to you until you began taking a variety of courses in college.
More than likely, as you continue through your higher education, you are likely to gravitate toward a major that was not in your initial plan when you first applied to college.
This data indicates that you are still on the right path even if you don’t know what you want to study. In fact, applying to and entering college without a declared major can benefit you in some cases. For certain majors, particularly those that are competitive and look for a strong GPA in the foundational courses for the discipline, you may be better off waiting to declare your major until you complete your second year in college and have demonstrated to yourself and the department that you are able to handle the rigor and complete the expected work successfully.
This strategy also works because many schools, including Cornell College, do not require you to officially define your course of study until the end of your sophomore year.
Leaving Your Options Open
Waiting to declare a major is also beneficial if you are unsure of what you want to study. It can be very emotionally and financially draining to fully invest yourself in one course of study to then change your major later in your undergraduate career.
Leaving your options open during the application process and in the beginning of your college experience will allow you to keep a more open mind and explore what piques your interest and passion.
One way to maximize your educational and career opportunities when uncertain about your major is to attend a liberal arts college. The broad foundational knowledge liberal arts schools provide to all students will ensure that you have access to core skills and content that you can apply to any degree or for that matter, any job after you graduate because you might not always work in the field of your major.
Consider doing the following when wondering what major to declare:
- Complete as many of the college’s general education requirements as possible during your first year of study. This allows you to complete mandated coursework toward all of the available majors while also sampling different departments and potential areas of study that interest you.
- Enroll in an exploratory track, which offers courses specifically designed to help students experience a variety of disciplines. The ability to engage in a structured exploration of new content areas is a great opportunity to identify your preferred major.
It is also important to consider that a change in major is especially common for students who initially join the mathematics and natural sciences departments. This is likely because the rigor and the specificity of the career tracks of these programs are greater than students anticipate when they first enter their higher education.
Here’s a very practical piece of advice:
If you are considering a major where the available career options are very narrow, you may want to take a few of the courses required for the major during your first and second years in college. This will give you an opportunity to determine if the major is a good fit for you early in your college career.
You will also want to consider mentoring from a faculty advisor and seeking out opportunities for participating in career experiences, such as internships or “job shadowing” to decide if the job opportunities aligned with your degree are what you envisioned them to be.
Rest assured, you are in good company when it comes to taking your time to declare a major. Think about what you might love to do as a first career, explore your options, sample courses, and then choose one. With all the prep work you’ve done, the right major may just find you.
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