So you're off to college and you've been thinking long and hard about what you'll study. You have several interests and passions, as well as many strengths that don't necessarily correlate to those interests or passions. You know what your parents wish you'd study, but you're not sure that it's right for you. And you don't feel confident that you can make a decision that'll potentially affect the rest of your life just yet.
Choosing a major can be stressful, but it's important to know that your major isn't going to make or break the rest of your career. Of course, your major can help steer you down the right direction, however, and that's why choosing a college major that you enjoy or want to pursue professionally is a wise move.
Here's when to declare your major, why it matters (but won't totally hurt you) and how to choose a major that's right for you.
What Is a Major?
Your college major is your specialized area of study. Most colleges require you to take certain classes, such as at least one language course, a science or two, a math class, an English class, a number of electives, etc. But your major is a group of core courses that you are required to take in order to receive your degree. For example, these courses might all be grouped under Chemistry or French or Finance or Political Science or Psychology.
When Can You Declare Your Major?
You might be wondering, can you declare a major as a freshman? The answer is yes. You can declare your major as a freshman, but you don't necessarily have to — and you might not necessarily want to.
Perhaps you've started school not quite knowing what exactly you want to study or you can't decide on your career just yet. Well, freshman year is the year that you can take a bunch of electives and knock off some of your required classes. It's a good time to dabble in different areas of study to see what intrigues you the most. Maybe you didn't know how much you loved biology until your freshman-year biology professor changed your mind about it. Or maybe you thought you really loved physics but decided that your psychology classes were far more interesting to you during your freshman year.
Whatever the case, you do have to declare your major by the end of your sophomore year. This leaves you two years to figure out what you want to study, without rushing into a field, and another two years to then focus on those core major classes.
Of course, the earlier you know what you want to study, the easier it will be for you to complete your required classes on time (and leave room to take more classes that interest you), but it's best not to rush into any area of study if you just aren't positive.
Does Your College Major Matter?
Your college major isn't going to make or break your career. In fact, the reality is that many employers hire candidates that they know or that have been referred to them. This is because these candidates have gotten real-world experience, perhaps through internships or by working odd jobs or part-time gigs in the industry already.
It's also true that there are history majors who have become scientists and English majors who are politicians and biology majors who are now writers. Eva Longoria studied kinesiology, Carrie Underwood studied journalism, Gabrielle Union studied sociology, Natalie Portman studied psychology, Rebel Wilson studied law, and the list goes on.
In fact, many of the world's extremely successful people even switched careers down the line, which means that their majors have little to nothing to do with their current careers. Jeff Bezos had a lucrative Wall Street career in computer science, where he worked at several financial firms before transitioning to e-commerce and launching Amazon at 31 years old. Meanwhile, Martha Stewart was a full-time model before her five-year stint as a Wall Street stockbroker. It wasn't for another few years until she turned her love of gourmet cooking into what is now known as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. And Vera Wang was a figure skater and journalist before even stepping foot in the fashion industry at age 40.
So, sure, your major will mean you take courses in your field of interest. And you'll certainly learn a lot about the industry you want to enter. Plus, you will meet other like-minded students and professors with whom, down the line, you can network. But your major doesn't matter that much.
How to Choose a Major
Now that you know what your major really is and how it can affect your career, you might be wondering, how do I choose the right degree course?
Here's how to choose a major in three simple ways.
1. Choose Your Major Based on Career Choice
If you already know what you want to do with your life — or at least get started doing with your life — follow your dream. For example, if you've always wanted to be a teacher, study education. If you've always wanted to be a biologist, study biology. If you know, you know. And it's as simple as that.
2. Choose Your Major Based on Your Personality Type
If you're not so confident in what you want to do with your life, consider choosing a major based on your personality type. You can do this by first taking a personality test. The Myers Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI) is a test created to give you a more in-depth look at your personalities, beyond whether you're an introvert or extrovert. Depending on your personality type, there are different careers that might suit you best. Take a look at some of our suggested careers for different personalities, for example.
3. Choose Your Major Based on Your General Interests or Strengths
If you have general interests or strengths, it's also wise to just follow that. For example, perhaps you're interested in pscyhology; take more classes in psychology. If you're really skilled in math, take more math classes. Chances are that you'll learn more about the career you want the more you pursue your interests and strengths. You might also discover that you can apply your psychology or math major to different careers down the line.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.