Job or major? What comes first?
Consider two basic approaches. The “job” vision with a major tailored to it; or the “major” vision with the job to follow. The path you choose depends on how career-driven you are at the time you start college.
For the career-driven approach, look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Department of Labor for national job information or for the region in which you’d work after graduation. Does your major lend itself to opportunities in hot job fields, or does it narrow your options? How important is having these options for you?
As a high-school graduate or early college student, take advantage of internships to “test-drive” jobs that correlate to specific majors. In this way you will know the jobs/fields you like, and the job knowledge can help refine a choice for a major.
What do you love?
What subjects have you always liked and/or done very well in? These would be logical choices for majors. Determine what subjects are most interesting to you before you nail down a major. The most important aspect is that you are interested. Without a love of your major, achieving excellence within it is highly difficult.
Who can help you?
Ask your academic advisor for help … a person who has knowledge and credentials can give you a better idea of what majors consist of and how they may be aligned with your interests. Talk to a career counselor for guidance on what skills certain careers demand and how well you might fit the role for particular jobs that correspond to your major.
How you can help yourself
- Scout the degree program. Department course lists: do they look interesting to you?
- Conduct teacher interviews: how accomplished are the professors with whom you’ll be learning? How personable are they in the classroom?
- Conduct student interviews: talk to other majors, current students and recent graduates. What are the strengths/weaknesses of the program as they see it.
- If you’re unsure of a major at the outset, examine textbooks and syllabi from various majors and sit in on a couple of classes.
- Check with the alumni relations department or major department for a list of jobs held by school graduates in a particular major. This gives you a nice feel for your post-graduation possibilities.
- Become an undergraduate research assistant to explore a potential field of interest in depth.
- Look at academic journals or go to academic conferences for the fields that interest you. Find a spark of desire from reading compelling articles or encountering the latest research and buzz from graduate students at a conference.
- Be open to changing your major if your interests/attitudes change. Also, consider a minor or double major if you have equally strong passions for more than one field.
Finally, don’t stress about it. The critical thinking skills, exposure to various ways of learning, and chances to synthesize and demonstrate knowledge are more important than the actual major. Most people end up changing not only their jobs, but also their careers over the course of their professional lives.