How to Pick a College Major: 5 Ways to Decide on a Degree Path

A female student picks a college major by researching degrees on her laptop

What do you want to be when you grow up? As a kid, this question was fun to think about. Maybe you found yourself excitedly dreaming about becoming a veterinarian, a doctor or even an astronaut. As you get older, however, the question can quickly become intimidating. 

Family, new friends or professors have probably asked you what your plans are after you graduate. While it can be exciting to imagine where you’ll be in a few years, it can also be daunting to consider so many different degree options and career choices, especially as you begin college and have to choose a major. 

If you don’t know what you want to get your degree in, you’re not alone. According to a survey by OnePoll and the University of Colorado Global, roughly one third of Americans have no plan for after they graduate high school or college. With so many degree options, how are you supposed to know which to choose?

Here are five things you can do when deciding on a college major.

1. Start early.

Most four-year colleges start with two years of general education, so you don’t have to be locked into a major right away. However, it’s important that you start looking at your options early on. Begin looking into your school’s degree offerings and see what stands out to you. Start having conversations with your mentors, professors and advisors now to see your options and get an idea of what you want to study.

2. Find out what interests you.

Think back to different jobs, volunteer experiences, clubs, classes or other activities you’ve enjoyed. Maybe you enjoy writing essays or are fascinated by history — these can be good indicators of what you might enjoy doing for a career. Start taking electives from different areas of study to see what will interest you. By branching out and trying new things, you can narrow down your degree options and start researching potential careers.

3. Research career paths.

Once you know what your interests are, take some time to explore career options. Websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CareerOneStop have up-to-date statistics on what careers are available and what they pay to help you get an idea of what to expect. Other sites like Zippia and Gladeo let you explore careers by interest, major and even personality type. Once you know what career interests you, you can work backwards — look at what the degree requirements are for your desired field and then pick your major to match.

4. Talk to other professionals.

One of the best ways to start your career search is to talk to those already in the field, like your college professors or employer. Make a list of questions you have about their jobs and meet with them for coffee or after class. Getting their insights into what it’s like in the field and how they got to where they are is a great way to know what path to take in your schooling.

5. Gain Experience.

If you have an idea of what you’d like to do, but aren’t sure if it’ll be a good fit, start by volunteering or doing an internship. Consider becoming a teacher’s assistant for a professor in your potential major, volunteering at a local church or applying for an internship at a local business. Getting first-hand experience is a great way to help you feel confident about your major. It can also help you see how your classes can benefit your future career and see what degree path will be the best fit.

Deciding on a college major is a key part of your educational and career path. However, at any point in your college journey, your interests may change or you may discover something that interests you more — and that’s okay! College is a great time to explore new possibilities and find what you’re passionate about. The discipline and skills you learn along the way can help you succeed in your future career, whatever you decide.