You’ve selected your top college choices, applied, and are now enrolled — but your decisions aren’t all made yet. You still need to declare a major, typically in your sophomore or junior year.
While many people go on to enjoy careers in fields unrelated to their original major, your choice of major can majorly affect your earning potential after graduation and isn’t a decision to be made on a whim.
Here’s everything you need to know about researching majors, and what to compare as you review your options.
What to Consider When You Compare Majors
You’ve always like reading, so you should major in English, right? While your interests should certainly be taken into account when reviewing potential majors, it’s not the only thing you should focus on. Here are several things to keep in mind before making a final decision.
- What types of jobs are associated with your major? Consider your personality type and the types of jobs that sound interesting to you. Does your “dream job” require a certain education path? If you don’t have a specific job or career in mind yet, make sure that common jobs for your major are at least something you’d enjoy.
- What’s your return on investment? Not all majors cost the same dollar amount to complete, and your future salary will vary based on your major, too. Business and STEM degrees often cost more than liberal arts majors — but those higher-priced majors also typically pay more after your graduate. Review the differences in tuition costs at your school and check out average starting salaries in different majors.
- What are the workload requirements to complete your major? Just as the cost of your degree can vary by major, so too can your required workload. More complex homework assignments, added lab hours, or extra accreditation can add to your weekly workload in big ways. If you have a particular job or major in mind, make sure you’re realistic about what it will take to complete and that you’re willing to commit yourself to it.
- What are the employment rates in your chosen major? Your major won’t mean much if you can’t find a job after graduation. Are job opportunities in your chosen field growing or shrinking? While this type of data is no guarantee about your individual job prospects, it can be comforting to know that your chosen career has a healthy forecast for the foreseeable future.
- Does your major align with your interests and values? Even if all of the above data points for a certain major meet your standards, it’s likely not realistic to major in a subject you aren’t interested in. While you may think you can feign interest to get through each day, this is a recipe for burnout down the line — and you may end up switching careers decades later to something you truly enjoy.
4 Helpful Resources to Research Majors
Now that you know what factors you should consider, where do you gather that information? These tools can be a great starting point.
1. Use Online Comparison Tools
There are plenty of places that compile school and employment information about college majors, such as College Majors 101 and CollegeBoard. At comparison sites like this, you can often view degree requirements, employment outlooks, average salaries, and more for a given major. Though these data points may not exactly match your school and location, these tools are still useful as a high-level overview to get you started in your search.
2. Take Advantage of Your School’s Career Resources
Most schools offer career counseling to students who aren’t sure what type of job or major is the right fit. Make an appointment with a career counselor or at the campus office and see what they can offer.
At your appointment, you might find self-assessment tests, school-specific data about each majors’ success rates, and other useful info. You’re probably already paying for these services with your tuition and fees, so take advantage of it and pick the brain of a career counselor before making your final call.
3. Review Job-Specific Data at Salary or Government Databases
If you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of majors, now’s the time to do a deep-dive with your own research. To get a look at how real professionals are faring, sites such as Salary.com, Glassdoor, and PayScale compile data points such as average salaries based on location and education level, common benefits offered in certain positions, and other job-specific info.
The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics also compiles a ton of data about certain careers. Its Occupational Outlook Handbook lets you search by various jobs and shows you things like certification requirements, average salaries and benefits, job outlooks for the given industry, and more.
4. Get Real-World Experience
You can only get so much done with internet research. If you’re on the fence about your major or just unsure of what you really like, consider some real-world experience. Perhaps you can take some extra classes to get a better feel for the major, secure an internship in a related job, or even shadow a professional who works in the career you’re interested in (all of which are things your school’s career office can likely help with).
This can be a great way to solidify your choice. What looks good to you on paper may not feel right in real life, so if you’re waffling about your decision, dipping a toe in your major before jumping all the way in could help put your mind at ease.
No Matter Which Major You Choose, It Will Be OK
Finally committing to a major can be a scary thing, but remember: Your major doesn’t have to determine your entire career for the next 40 years. Many people go on to find lucrative and enjoyable careers in a field outside of their original major.
But even if you feel your major does lock you into a specific career path, it’s never too late to change your mind. If you’ve already established yourself in a given career, you can still shift directions. You may need to return to school, get additional training, or simply learn as you go in a new field, but no matter how your career interests change in the future, it’s possible to land in the job you want.