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How To Choose A College Major: Critical Questions To Ask Yourself
By Carson Lang Updated on January 3, 2024
John Ross, JD, CPA John Ross, JD, CPA

How To Choose A College Major: Critical Questions To Ask Yourself

What is one question a student should ask themselves before declaring a major/study focus?

To help you choose the right college major (or even minor), we asked career coaches and business leaders this question for their best insights. From checking what your long-term objectives are, to finding out if the major correlates with your values and passions, there are several important questions that students need to ask themselves to help them make the best decision regarding their choice of a college major.

How to Choose A College Major

Here are 11 critical questions these experts expect you to ask yourself when choosing a college major:

What Are My Long-Term Academic and Professional Objectives?

Allow yourself time to think about your long-term goals; where do you want to be in 5 years? How about ten? You probably have an idea of the kind of employment you want, unlike many students who are unsure of what profession they want to pursue. Consider how majoring in a specific field relates to your overall goals and how you will use this degree in the future.

Axel Hernborg, Tripplo.com

What is the Cost?

Majoring in any subject comes at a huge financial cost and although grants and loans are available, you need to know that they will be sufficient and that you don’t finish it with a crippling level of debt. Bear in mind that the institution that runs the course you prefer may mean that you need to relocate and in addition to the fees for your education you will have extra living expenses and travel expenditures for vacations.

Unless you have sufficient funds, you may need to find some part-time work to maintain yourself, but this will mean you will have less time for study and recreation. In many cases, to keep expenditure down, you may have to consider taking a different major than intended to enable you to stay where you are and attend a college closer to home.

Morgan Taylor, Sourcery

choosing a college major

How Many Alternative Careers Can I Pursue With This?

The truth is, most college students never stick to the careers they hoped to pursue with their major. This is especially true for students in the arts. Many of the chefs I’ve worked with come from literature and cultural backgrounds, even though the obvious career path for these majors would be somewhere in the writing niche. Thus, it’s a wise strategy to select a major that offers multiple prospective career paths, particularly if you don’t have a conviction to pursue a specific profession.

The more options available, the more opportunities you’ll have at your disposal in the job market. Your first job doesn’t have to be the one you stick with forever. However, each opportunity should give you more insight into the career you truly want to stick with based on your previous study focus.

Brian Nagele, Restaurant Clicks

What Do I Enjoy Learning About?

This is a very basic question that has the potential to provide real clarity. Initial curiosity or superficial curiosity will only get you so far. However, if you’re choosing a study focus or a major, you’d be required to spend a lot of time within that field. If you lack a personal interest in that arena, the intrinsic motivation to pursue it will diminish over time. Lean toward a field that kindles and holds your interest.

Eric Ang, One Search Pro

Is This What I Want to Do Or What I Think I Should Do?

As a career coach, I work with many people who are in careers that they feel they have ‘just ended up in’, or have ‘just happened’ to them. They reach a certain point where they realize either: that their job is not satisfying, that their job doesn’t allow them to use their real skills, or, at worst, that their job actually makes them pretty unhappy. One of the things people pinpoint, is the decisions they made about what to study, because it influenced the job they ended up in. They felt that society expected them to be a certain person or study a certain thing, because it was seen as ‘successful’. They now realize that success means something pretty different to them.

So, before you sign up to your major or study focus because you think it’s what people like you are just supposed to do, or should do, ask yourself: do I actually want to study this? Do I actually think I’ll find the learning interesting? Does it feel very ‘me’? Listen well to your gut answer.

Hannah Ray, TAKE Coaching Amsterdam

college majors

Have I Talked to Someone Already in This Major?

One question a student should ask themselves before declaring a major is, “Have I talked to someone already in this major?” If the answer is no, consider talking to someone already enrolled in your desired course of study. They can answer any questions related to required classes, expectations, and how the major relates to your ideal career. An undergrad advisor in the department is also a good option, but a fellow student is sure to be more relatable.

Kevin Callahan, Flatline Van Co.

Do I Enjoy the Coursework?

You will be spending a lot of time studying the material covered in your major courses, so it is important to make sure you will actually enjoy the content. If you find the majority of classes related to your potential major uninteresting or difficult, it may not be the right fit for you. In addition, some students feel they need to “tough out” certain difficult classes in order to reach their desired career — but if a class is consistently causing you stress or preventing you from succeeding in other areas, it may not be worth your while to continue struggling.

Danielle Bedford, Coople

What Am I Passionate About?

One question that a student should ask themselves is, “What am I passionate about?” This can be difficult to answer at first, but it is important to figure out what excites you. Once you know this, it will become easier to pick an area of study that meshes with your interests and passions. Follow this with supporting questions like What do I enjoy doing and what would make me happy doing that for the rest of my life? Do these activities align with the fields of study I am interested in? If not, which ones might they be compatible with? This will help you narrow down your options.

Johannes Larsson, JohannesLarsson.com

picking a college major

Where Do I See Myself After Graduation?

It is common for college students to choose a major based on what position they fantasize about as a dream career that goes well into the future. Students who dream of being a politician choose political science, those who aspire to be an accountant choose accounting, and those who see themselves as CEOs choose business. The issue here is students are choosing majors based on where they would like to see themselves decades into the future instead of after graduation.

A question college students should ask themselves before declaring a major is, “What type of job would I like to see myself in within 1 year of graduating?” This helps students navigate a pathway to the dream position by strategically choosing stepping-stone positions they will have to take along the way. Students should be sure that both the early career and late career positions in a field are equally as interesting to them because the only way to get to the top is to start at the bottom.

Bryor Mosley, Southern New Hampshire University

Will This Path Help Me Achieve My Best Fulfillment?

Will this path help me to achieve my most fulfilled self? And if I pursue this path to the end, will I be making the world a better place? There is a temptation to think more pragmatically, or at least more strategically—and there may also be parental pressure or peer pressure pushing in that direction. But college is when you decide who you want to be as an adult. No one can make that decision for you. Find the best that leads you to your most fulfilled self, and in doing so, you will make the world a better place.

Drake Ballew, Practice Health

Does This Major Correlate With My Values and Passions?

A student should ask themselves, “Does this major correlate with my values and passions in life?” Declaring a major that does not meet these requirements will cause a student to lose interest and possibly out a lot of money. Finding a major that can relate to your interests organically gives you more relevant knowledge that can be applied within the field study. A major you can feel confident in will build good results within the discipline, even as the material increases in difficulty.

Lyudmyla Dobrynina, Optimeal

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