Find Your College Path: Choosing Your Major
By Joanna Nesbit
You might know what you want to study in college, but a lot of incoming first-year students don’t. That’s OK and normal. For most majors, you don’t need to figure out your path in your first semester, or even your first year. (But some majors, like engineering, require prerequisites that you might need to take in the first year, so explore the requirements if you’re considering a specialized path like this.)
At some point, though, you’ll need to declare a major. Here are some ways to figure out your academic career path.
Check Out Different Careers
Here are some formal and informal ways to explore what kinds of careers might be a good fit your you:
- Talk with people who are happy in their jobs and ask why and how they got there.
- Ask people who have jobs you’re interested in about the good parts and the hard parts, and how they got there.
- Notice and look into careers around you that seem interesting.
- Think about what you enjoy studying and what careers are associated with those courses.
- Check in with yourself about your lifestyle goals. Do you want to live a more relaxed or fast-paced life? Do you like competition or prefer collaboration?
- Make a list of your nonacademic interests and see whether there are careers that overlap with them.
Try volunteering for a club or organization on campus or look for an opportunity in the community. Many organizations rely on volunteer help, such as local food banks, literacy or tutoring organizations, or environmental organizations. You’ll gain a sense of what interests you (or not) and what you’re good at. Bonus: You get to put your activism work on your resume and show employers extra skills you gained in college.
Go to Lectures
Campuses host all kinds of events, such as lectures, films, exhibits, and volunteer activities—much of them for free or a small fee. Try things out to find out what interests you. Lectures cover different topics and are given by different kinds of people, including professors, business people, political figures, and even media and entertainment people. Something you hadn’t thought about or even heard of might grab your interest.
Audit a Class
Most colleges also allow you to attend classes as a nonregistered student to check out a subject (called auditing). Talk to your academic adviser or check the college website to find out how to audit a class. Consider classes that aren’t part of your academic plan but spark your interest.
Attend a Career Fair
Watch for a career fair or other career events on your campus or in your community. The career center likely lists upcoming events and may send out email or text notifications if you sign up.
Typically, employers set up booths where recruiters hand out information and answer questions about what you can expect at different types of companies—a local company, a large tech firm, a corporation with branches around the country, or a financial institution. You might get new ideas for areas of study you hadn’t considered before or gain a contact for a summer internship.
Talk to an Adviser (or Two)
If you have an assigned academic adviser, bounce career ideas off them. Even if you don’t have an assigned adviser, you can set up appointments with a general academic adviser (they don’t need to be assigned), meet with a department adviser if you know your major, or just pop into your professors’ office hours. They’re all ready to help, and they might understand better than you what your academic strengths are and can help outline career ideas.
Learn more about finding a mentor in college and how they might help you figure out your career or major
Head to the Career Center
Many students don’t visit the career center until their senior year when they’re close to graduating, but a career center can be helpful long before the actual job search. Visiting during your first year isn’t too early.
Make an appointment to discuss your interests and potential career direction if you’re feeling a little lost about what to study or what a potential career involves. A career adviser can provide more detail on what a particular career path requires. And you can get practice with mock interviews and help with writing resumes and LinkedIn profiles. They also host career fairs for internships and jobs where students make important connections.
Follow Your Own Interests and Dreams
As you explore careers and have conversations, you may come in contact with a lot of people who have their own ideas of what a good career is or what kind of job you’d be “perfect for.” You can take all that in as information, but remember that this is your life you’re planning. Stay connected to the things that spark your interest and try to take the well-intended suggestions of others as just that.