Choosing a major can be very stressful. Maybe, you have so many interests that you couldn’t possibly choose just one major. Or you might not have found any subject interesting enough to declare it as your major. You might have the (false) belief that your major determines your lifelong career, how much money you’ll make, whether you’ll need to attend graduate school, and if in your future you’ll be a happy and successful person.
WOW! It’s easy to overthink what choosing a major means. It’s time to take a deep breath and read about a few tips to help you make a thoughtful, informed decision.
1. Reflect. Reflect. Reflect.
Choosing a major begins with knowing your areas of interest, what academic subjects you enjoy, and what you want to give back to the world. Not everyone is born knowing what they want to be. In fact, approximately 75% of students change their major at least once in college. On the whole, students change majors because they get exposed to a new subject or realize that a subject is not originally what they thought or hoped it would be. Discovering what academic areas you enjoy can be challenging, especially if you’ve only taken — until now — traditional high school classes in science, math, and history. At UGA, we offer over 150 majors — that’s a lot of new subjects to discover! So, how do you learn about all of them without taking 150 new classes?
Rather than choosing a major based on what you think a subject will be like, do some reflection and research in advance. The UGA Bulletin lists every class in every major, and for each class you can read a course description along with an outline of the course content. If you research classes beforehand and reflect on why you want to study them, you’re much more likely to find a great major that aligns with your interests and goals. By the way, the UGA Bulletin isn’t the only place that you can do research. Look at department websites! That’s right, each department at UGA has a website with helpful information on classes, areas of emphasis within the major, opportunities for experiential learning, advising information, and faculty and staff directories. Be sure to add this resource to your list…you can tell a lot about a major just by visiting the department’s website.
More tips for self-refection:
a. Take a career assessment.
The UGA Career Center offers career assessments on interests, values, personality, and skills that are free and easy to take online. Call the career center for more information (706) 542-3375, or see page 8 in the 2015-2016 UGA Career Guide.
b. Keep a journal.
- What projects in school have been the most enjoyable and/or fulfilling? Why?
- What do I like to read (about)?
- What issues make me happy/upset?
- How and where do I want to make a difference?
- Who do I enjoy being around? What do these people provide for me?
- What are your favorite books, movies, TV shows, websites, etc? Why?
c. Talk with your friends, previous teachers, and parents.
- What are strong qualities that I possess?
- What have I always been good at?
- What surprises you about me?
2. Ask for help.
As the first person in my family to attend college, I didn’t have parents that I could turn to for answers about what college was like, or how I should choose a major. Personally, I struggled to choose a major because I had no idea “what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” At the time, I equated choosing a major with finding a subject and career that I would be focused on for my entire working life. Now, that’s pressure! I only wish that I had sought out a Career Consultant who could have told me that choosing a major doesn’t mean that you are choosing a lifelong career—the two, in fact, don’t always even relate.
Asking for help from a Career Consultant can have a big impact on how you feel and think about choosing a major. At the UGA Career Center, there are two great ways to meet with Career Consultants for major exploration. One way is to arrange an hour-long appointment with one of us by calling the front desk of the Career Center at (706) 542-3375. You don’t need to bring anything to a major exploration appointment! We will discuss where you are in the process, explore options, and provide resources and feedback to help you make a decision. You can also attend an Explore Lab, where you will have the chance to learn about majors at UGA, explore options, discover resources, and hear from other students. To register for an Explore Lab, you can login to Handshake, or call the front desk of the Career Center.
3. Make exploration fun.
You might feel that choosing a major is the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and it’s only causing you anxiety and grief. If thinking about making a decision is exhausting or overwhelming, it’s going to be very difficult to think clearly and make a thoughtful, informed decision. The anxiety that you harbor can act as a real barrier to the decision-making process. Reframing the way you think about choosing a major can help the process. Rather than focusing on the negative, try to think about exploring majors as something enjoyable, maybe even fun.
If you love learning, then this is an opportunity for you to research different subjects, talk with faculty about their fields of study and research, and hear stories from friends and family. If you’re focused on career outcomes, then the Career Center can help! We have collected data on where recent graduates get hired, what job titles they’ve earned, what salaries they are making, and what graduate schools they’ve attended. All of this information is now connected to our new and improved What Can I Do With a Major In… website. There, you can search each major individually and learn about career options, on-campus clubs and organizations, professional associations, and more!
The point is this: choosing a major is a process that involves more than trying to predict your career. It’s a time for reflection and growth. It’s a time to learn from others and seek help when you need it. It’s a time to be excited and engaged with what you want to learn. Choosing a major is a big decision, but it’s just one decision of many that you make in life. Set aside some time this week to review the resources provided here, and be sure to talk to at least one person about majors at UGA! The more you use the people and resources around you, the closer you will get to choosing a major that aligns with your interests and goals.
Gordon, V. N. (1995). The undecided college student: An academic and career advising challenge (2nd. ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.