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A 5-Step Plan to Pick Your Major

Little baby birds! If you’re in high school, heading towards college, giddily trying on your cap and gown…you’ve probably given some thought to a major.

And you might be stuck on one of the following areas:

  • Ahh! If I major in something, that’s what my career needs to be, and I just can’t commit to finance for the rest of my life!
  • AHH!! If I major in something, that’s what my career needs to be, and I CAN’T MAKE A PROFITABLE CAREER OUT OF AN ART DEGREE!
  • I don’t even know what I’m interested in!

If that sounds like you, well, let’s all take a deep breath.


When you’re choosing a major, that’s all you’re doing. You’re choosing a major. Not a career. And it’s not the end of the world. And if you really want to know what to major in, you’ve got five things to do.

Let’s get going! I promise this’ll be fun.

1. Recognize that a major is not a job-ticket.

Here’s what I mean by that.

You might be looking at college and The Infinite And Frightening Future as a series of tracks. And if you pick the right major, you can go to a job train, they’ll stamp it, and you’ll be on board, whooshing off to a wonderful career.

And if you pick the wrong one, no job trains will pick you up. You’ll be left out in the railroad yard with an expired ticket.


…I’m going to let you in on a secret.

So, yes. Some fields (mostly science- and engineering-related) do need you to have a related degree before you go off and design highways, or inject mice with cancer cells.

But for almost any other career, your major doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you have a degree in the first place. 

  • Internships
  • Connections
  • Projects
  • Productions
  • Ability to communicate

These are the real deciding factors in whether or not you’ll be employed–not your choice to pursue Women’s Studies over Supply Chain Management.

Wait, so…why should I even care about my major?

Well, because it’s a major (ha) part of your college experience. It’s four years of your life. Most of your classes will be centered around it, and most of your free time will be taken up with related information.

So make sure that whatever you study, you care about it. If you’re going to spend four years doing something, try and make sure it’s something you legitimately enjoy.

2. Understand what a major entails

When you’re getting a degree, that means the majority of your classes will be in that field. They’ll be with a specific set of teachers, and you’ll be studying a specific curriculum. Ideally, you will want to like these people, and these classes.

You’ll be in a particular community. Sometimes that means you’ll get major-specific newsletters, or access to special events, or other perks.

  • If you’re a business major, you might be invited to a luncheon with some old alumni who started their own businesses.
  • If you’re an art major, famous artists might stop by and grace your class with a lecture. (Seriously.)

And, of course, every academic program is a little different. Some will have a ton of room for random electives outside the major. Some will be jam-packed all four years with heavy requirements.

But if you major in biology, that doesn’t mean you can’t take a dance class. Or vice versa! Even if you’re missing some prerequisites, professors are often fine with overriding curious students who want to learn.

3. Figure out what you love.

If you read no other part of this article, read this one.

If you are going to spend four years doing something, please, please make sure it’s something you’re actually interested in. 

Four years is a LONG time. And if you love your major, you’re 150% more likely to:

What comes out of that? Satisfaction. Knowledge. And a full resume, complete with impressive references.


Whether or not you already know what you love, for the next week (at least), you’re going to go on the Little Notebook Journey.

And before you laugh this off, just think for a second. You’ve got nothing to lose from doing this. But what if you don’t take the time to figure yourself out, spend three years in a major you hate, and discover your calling your senior year?

Not the end of the world, but not preferable.

The Little Notebook Journey

Get a little notebook. It can be a one-dollar flip memo pad, or a ten-dollar mini Moleskine. Whatever floats your boat. As long as you can carry it EVERYWHERE.

But what, you ask, will you write in this little handy-dandy notebook?

journal3Write things down, no matter how silly they are. As long as they’re honest. Write down if someone thinks you’re a good listener. If you love watching Gilmore Girls. If you love taking bubble baths.

Don’t filter yourself, and you might be surprised what you find out. Remember: nobody but you has to see this.


Once you’ve gone on the little notebook journey, sit down, flip through all your pages, and start making lists.

  • Which things go well together?
  • What could make an interesting combination?
  • Is there something you wrote down twice without realizing it? Three times?

Make lists. Make groups. These are you. This is what makes you tic.

These are areas where you possibly wouldn’t hate spending four years of your energy.


4. Research your groups

Okay. Looking at your “things you love” list, you could have any number of things. And you likely have a little bit of a mess.

Book-making next to chemistry, next to listening to music, next to volunteering at the bake sale, next to staying organized. And that’s FINE.

So where will you start? Well…


Start typing things into Google

You don’t know what you don’t know. There are a ton of majors out there that people don’t even know exist. Sometimes they only exist at specific schools. Sometimes you can make your own major.

Type different combinations of your groups into Google, and see what you come up with.

  • Violins and anatomy?
  • Psychology and running?
  • Meditating and trying new foods?

You’ll be amazed at the different kinds of programs that start popping up.

And another thing to keep in mind during your research–are there things in your “I really love this” groups that point towards a career path heavy with requirements? Like a doctor? Or a lawyer? Or an engineer?

Generally speaking, you don’t have to have a pre-med or pre-law degree to get into med school or law school. And besides, there are a ton of different jobs in the medical field and legal field.

But if you want to have a job in the sciences, you will need to make sure you have the proper background.

Just keep that in mind as you search!


Have a specific school in mind? Look at the degrees they offer.


Did you write down that you love to read, you’re excited about philosophy, and you play the fiddle? And you’re already accepted to Northwestern? Go to their website. Go to the “Academics” section. Poke around music degrees. English degrees.

Throw away the idea that “If I get an English degree, I need to be an English teacher.” Or a professional writer. Or an editor.

Your degree is a base. It, along with your internships, references, and projects, will determine the kind of job you can get. Do not limit yourself.

And, again, you might be surprised at the shockingly-specific programs that are sometimes available!


Meet with faculty at a local college

If certain programs start piquing your interest, consider getting in touch with faculty members at your local college.

For example, if you think you might be interested in architecture, email an architecture professor. Say something along the lines of,

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 3.28.33 PM

Once you’re actually meeting with them, have a couple questions you want to ask. Consider some of the following:

  1. What kind of students do you tend to see the most?
  2. Are there any complaints you hear from students?
  3. What is the most exciting thing you’ve seen as an architecture teacher?
  4. What do past students come back and gush about?

But no matter what–and I mentioned this above–be honest.

If you’ve been into architecture your whole life, and you love looking at buildings, say that! If you’re just now discovering architecture, SAY THAT.

You’re trying to get a feel for how YOU might function in the major–not how a Pretend You might do.


5. Be open to change.

Remember–a big reason to go to college is to change, and grow, and develop.

And no matter how meticulously you pick your major, be wary of planning out your whole career path, or even being dead-set on an entire college path.

You might be set on your glassblowing passions right now, but you may discover that you’re really excellent at event-planning.

Or maybe you’re locked onto being a surgeon, but realize midway through sophomore year that dance theater is calling your name.

There are a lot of options with your major.

  • You can change it.
  • Or, you can add another major.
  • Or a minor.
  • Or a certificate.
  • Or, you can get overrides into a couple dance classes.
  • Or, you can continue preparing to be a surgeon, and just do a lot of  dance productions outside of your schoolwork.

Give yourself permission to grow and adapt to your new interests. If you need to deviate from the path a little bit, it’s okay.


If you’re stuck on a possible major, slow down. Take a deep breath. And try this:

  1. Recognize that a major isn’t just a ticket to get you a job.
  2. Understand exactly what a major is.
  3. Figure out what you really love.
  4. Research the things you love.
  5. Be open to change.

Sound touchy-feely? Well, emotions, passions, and interests are generally a little touchy-feely. And if you’re going to spend four years on a degree, there should probably be some emotion behind it.

What do you want to study? Did you do the notebook experiment? Leave a comment below!

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Dressler Parsons

Dressler Parsons spent most of her childhood in an adobe house her father built in rural Arizona. Right now, she's taking so many business and art classes at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, and plans to graduate in Fall 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. And, handily enough, her SAT scores and grades qualified her for ASU's Presidential Scholarship (worth $24,000), as well as the AIMS tuition waiver. She is passionate about showing people their potential for a bright, beautiful future. In her free time, she cooks edible things and knits inedible ones.
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