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How to Choose a Major

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How to Choose a MajorBy: Charissa Skinner
APUS Academic Advisor

When applying for college or selecting your first semester of courses, choosing a major will be one of the most important decisions you make. After all, your major will determine which courses you need to complete to graduate, which faculty members with whom you will work, and, ultimately, which career field and occupations you seriously consider after graduation. With such a variety of majors now available in higher education, narrowing your options down to even just 2 or 3 may seem daunting. Here are 5 points to consider as you narrow down possible majors to the right one for you:

  • First, consider what kind of life you want to have. This overall goal encompasses more than just career choices because you will need to factor in what lifestyle you envision for yourself. What are your values? Where do you want to live? Do you want to work close to home or are you willing to commute? Do you want an urban or rural lifestyle? Are you willing to relocate internationally? How much time do you expect to work each week — standard 40 hours for full-time employees or 40-plus for executive-track positions? How much time per week do you want to spend with your family or friends?
  • Second, research possible careers in different fields that will fit into your ultimate lifestyle goals. A great resource is the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), published by the U.S. Department of Labor. This free web-based resource contains information about the required education, average earnings, working hours required per week, and prospective job outlook for hundreds of jobs. Select 5 occupations that interest you.
  • Third, contact your academic advisor or a career counselor at your institution to discuss your lifestyle goals, your list of occupations, your interests, and your skills. Ask for self-assessment tools, such as FOCUS-2 or DISCOVER, which will allow you to input information about your interests, aptitudes, and preferences and will then compute a list of occupations with the best match. Discuss the results of the assessments with your advisor or career counselor to make a list of majors at your school that match the top 2 career fields from the assessments.
  • Fourth, review the academic programs from your list in your institution’s course catalog. Look over the degree requirements for each major and read through course descriptions for the required courses. Also, be sure to look at the end of program requirements (internship, field experience, capstone, or thesis). If you find a major that has more than 2-3 courses that sound awful to you, strike it off the list! This task should leave you with a small list of only a few major options.
  • Fifth, take your reduced list and work backward through these points. Compare those few majors against each other to note the differences in the degree programs. Then, compare each to your assessment results and reflect more deeply on your skills and interests. Go back to the OOH to find more detailed information on the original careers you selected. Is there a match between one of those selections and a potential major? Will this major help you to achieve your overall lifestyle goals?

Once you have researched and reflected, return to your advisor if you have not made your choice. Your advisor has experience and will give you additional information about the connection between your major options, occupations, and lifestyle. You might also consider using faculty members in those majors as a resource since these individuals have practical experience in the field and have worked with students who have similar goals for many years.

I hope this information helps you to realistically reflect on your goals and to narrow your overall goals step-by-step into the best college major for you! 

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