Choosing a Major: What to Study in College

Monday, July 02, 2018
Choosing A Major

Senior year of high school is an exciting time, but choosing a college can be a difficult decision. And if you aren’t sure what you want to study yet, the decision can be even harder. Some people instinctively know what to study in college because they have a clear view of the career they want in the future while others have to do a bit more soul searching.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t feel like you have a “calling;” plenty of people don’t and need to base their decision on what they think will best suit them. If this is the case for you, there are a number of factors to take into account when choosing a major and, ultimately, a career.


What’s Important to You?

The first step in choosing a major is to decide what’s important to you in the long run. Certain factors like earning potential, job demand, and your personal interests play a big role in helping you decide on a major. Spend some time reflecting on what will make you happy and provide the most career longevity. Are you the type of person that is ok traveling for work if it means you make a higher salary? Or is it more important for you to be passionate about your career than to make the highest salary? These are good questions to ask yourself to start a brainstorm of how you picture your life in a few years.


Earning Potential

Earning potential is a term that refers to the top salary for a particular field or profession. For many people, taking into consideration how much money they will make is a big factor in deciding what they want to do. In general, careers in medicine, business administration, and STEM-related fields have the highest annual salaries.


In-Demand Jobs

As well as earning potential, you will want to factor in which jobs are in-demand. How easy or hard will it be to get a job after graduation? While earning potential is high for some careers, it may also be increasingly difficult to find a job. Demand will vary depending on trends and other factors, but those with degrees in business and STEM-related fields tend to be the most in-demand. For related insights, check out the NSHSS  to see the preferences and attitudes of high-achieving high school students, college students, and college graduates specific to education, career and employment aspirations, and civic involvement.


Advanced Degree

Ask yourself if you want to get an advanced degree or if you’d rather finish your education at a Bachelor’s degree. Certain professions require advanced education like a Master’s Degree or Ph.D. in order to compete with other qualified candidates in the job market. You may want to avoid these careers if you don’t want to be in school longer than necessary.


Personal Interests

Perhaps the most important factor in choosing a major is your own interests. Choosing what to study in college based only on earning potential is not the best choice if you could end up hating the career you’ve chosen. What do you see yourself doing? Do you enjoy working with others or are you better on your own? Would you prefer to be working outside as a carpenter or inside at a computer? Are you too squeamish to be a doctor or does the human body fascinate you? There are a number of career quizzes available that ask these sorts of questions to help guide you to a good choice for your interests.


Research Careers That Interest You

If you’re between a few career options, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook is a helpful tool. It provides information like what tasks a job requires, average pay, job outlook, and work environment on a long list of occupations. This tool can help you get more information about the careers you’re interested in so you can make an assessment about whether or not they’re the right fit. Some jobs may sound like a good idea, but in reality they may require tasks that you wouldn’t want to do or be good at.  


In the end there’s really only one person that can make the decision about what to study in college: you. You likely know yourself better than you think and should have confidence in whatever decision you make.