Questions to ask yourself before selecting a major

By Catherine Mueller

November 01, 2017

One thing about the future is for certain – you don't want to look back over your life and have regret about the career decisions you've made. The regret people have about careers late in life usually isn't about the amount of money they've made but whether they had a fulfilling life. Career choices tend to play a big part in a happy life.

Selecting a college major is a big decision. Once you've made the decision, it may be difficult to change your mind. How do you know if you've made the right decision?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I given it enough thought? Even if you are already in college, you don't have to declare a major immediately. It's great if you have known since middle school that you want to be an artist, a doctor, or something else. However, if that insight hasn't hit you yet, take your basic requirements in college first and explore different areas to see what fits you best.
  • What brings me joy? Think about what has brought you the most happiness. What types of activities engage you the most? When did you do something that kept you so interested that when you were finished you were amazed that so much time had passed?
  • What are my talents? Make an inventory of your talents and see if any of those match the moments when you felt joy. What type of activities are you good at doing? Sports? Arts? Writing? Remember, some of your talents may not translate directly into that career but the skills are beneficial in a variety of majors. For example, if you excel in writing, you may be an excellent communicator – a talent that can be used in a variety of fields.
  • Will I find a job? What is the outlook for that career field? How competitive is it? Are you willing to relocate? Let's face it, it's tougher to find jobs in some fields than in others. You may really enjoy the theatre and have a talent for it, but remember it's a very competitive field with a lot of talented, passionate people. Often people who pursue these types of fields are very committed and willing to work and sacrifice for their dreams. Others may have multiple interests and pursue theatre along with another major (or minor) in another field to improve their chances of getting a job.
  • Who has that college major? Have you spoken with anyone who has graduated with that degree? If not, do so. It's a great way to find out firsthand what experience someone had with that college major. If you don't know anyone, contact the college or university you plan to attend to see if they can arrange an opportunity for you to speak to someone with that degree.

When you are considering these questions, be honest about these answers. You may admire someone who is an artist, but do you have the talent necessary to pursue that major?  If you don't like math, maybe engineering isn't the major for you.

Also consider the financial impact of majoring in some fields. Some degree programs take longer to complete and may cost more. While that shouldn't be a deciding factor for you, it does point out the need to carefully think through the decision of selecting a college major.