Guide to Choosing a College/University Major in the U.S.

May 7th, 2015

“A major is a specific subject area that students specialize in. Typically, between one-third and one-half of the courses you’ll take in college will be in your major or related to it.” (The College Board)

Applying to a U.S. college to pursue your undergraduate studies is daunting, not to mention waiting for the acceptance and the dreaded rejection letters. Once you have received your acceptance and headed to your desired institution, you face another challenge, that of choosing a college major, unless you’re one of the rare few who has known all along what he/she wants to major in.

The Challenge

Challenge

Choosing a college major for majority of undergraduate students can be overwhelming. Schools don’t make it any easier for students either. There are hundreds of majors to choose from and you want to make the right decision that will serve you well into you adult life, one that will help you on your career path and or graduate study. Naturally, it is a big commitment, but it’s not a life sentence and many college graduates end up in careers that had no direct relation to their majors or end up changing careers over the years. Point is that you want to select a major you will enjoy as you will be spending a great deal of time studying whatever subject you select.

The Homework

Homework

You can get started by doing a little homework of your own. At some U.S. colleges, you can major in two fields, have both a major and a minor (a specialization that requires fewer courses than a major) and even have the freedom to create your own major.

Ask yourself these questions as you ponder over selecting the right major for you:

Career-related

• What type of career or careers can you see yourself in?
• What type of work do you enjoy doing?
• What type of work environment do you see yourself in for a long time?
• If you had a part-time job when you were in high school or worked before starting college, what did you learn about your past work experience? What did you like and dislike?
• If you completed a career assessment in high school, what did your results indicate?

Hobbies & Interests

• What are your interests?
• Which subjects did you enjoy studying the most in high school?
• What type of skills do you have?
• Do you have any hobbies that you would like to pursue as a career?

Loyola University of Chicago has a quiz you can take to help you narrow down your choices or at least help you see what your options are in picking a college major. If you want to give their quiz a try, here’s the link to their site: http://www.luc.edu/undergrad/academiclife/whatsmymajorquiz/

The Exploration and Discovery

thinkingcap

While being undecided is fine, it’s good to have some idea of what you want to do or at least have a few ideas on majors you can explore and choose from once you start college. Typically, most US colleges allow you to go around undecided through your freshman (first) year but by the end of your sophomore (second) year, they do expect you to choose a major before you can continue onto your junior (third) year of studies. Though this will not be the case for some majors such as engineering, which require you to commit to taking the prerequisite courses earlier.

Again, remember you can be undecided in your first year which gives you the opportunity to explore a variety of courses. So, take a class or two in disciplines that interest you. This will help you get a better understanding of the field and if it is what you want to continue studying for the career of your dreams.

College is a huge investment, especially in the U.S., and choosing a major that will prepare you for a specific career is important. Check out PayScale.com for up-to-date information on their College ROI reports. Majors that lead to the highest salaries include any engineering specialty, computer science, economics, actuarial mathematics, physics, and economics.

Don’t write off liberal arts courses just because you may think all the jobs are for engineers and computer scientists and nothing for philosophy or English majors. Employers are looking for and value individuals who have critical thinking skills and writing abilities and these are exactly the qualities liberal arts majors provide. Though selecting a major that guarantees employment and a salary commensurate with your talents and education is important, you do need to keep in mind your quality of life; ultimately you want to be doing what makes you happy and not be trapped in a high paying job that makes you miserable.

Finally, once in college, don’t hesitate to talk to professors, department heads, peer advisors, and other students and ask for their help. If you can, find an internship off campus. Continue exploring your interests in your first and second years, complete the required general education courses and you may just find the major that best fits your interests and even your ideal career.

Helpful links:
http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-economic-guide-to-picking-a-college-major/
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/choosing-one-college-major-out-of-hundreds.html?_r=0
http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/09/19/5-ways-to-pick-the-right-college-major

Alan
Alan Saidi
Senior Vice President & COO

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit http://www.acei-global.org.

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