Whether you are going into college right out of or years after graduating high school, the number one question people ask is, “What are you majoring in?” Those of you who know exactly what you want to do when you “grow up” are lucky. For the rest of us, that question can feel like more of an interrogation rather than excited curiosity.
Sure, you know they mean well, but how are you supposed to pick a major anyway? There is so much to do in this world, how can I, you, or anyone, just pick ONE thing?! Relax, breathe, and take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.
Before you stress out too much about picking a major, know that you have time to decide. How much time you have depends on your area(s) of interest and your school’s specific requirements. For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I’m lumping all of your choices into one of two categories, STEM majors and liberal arts majors. Yes, I know that this is an oversimplification of your options as a college student, but bear with me here; there is a method to my madness.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Essentially any degree that prepares you for a career in the medical field (including psychology), sciences, computers, statistics, etc., fall under this category because you will need to be proficient in at least a couple of the STEM subjects to do well in that respective career.
Hopefully by now you know if you excel in math, science, and the other related subjects. If you are like me and need a calculator to do simple addition and the principals of advanced physics go over your head, then a STEM degree is probably not for you. In addition, if you are proficient in STEM related areas, but you have absolutely no passion for them, I would be reluctant to tell you to pursue a STEM degree. While talent certainly helps, STEM degree programs are known for their competitive nature. In my opinion, liking what you study matters just as much (if not more) as doing well in it.
Liberal arts, in this context, refers to all of the other majors that don’t fall into the STEM category, like the Fine and Performing Arts, Communications, History, English, Humanities, Underwater Basket Weaving, and so on. As I mentioned earlier, people will disagree with how I’ve chosen to classify college majors, so don’t take this classification system too seriously. This is a 101 course, and I’m giving you the basics. I may continue this topic in a later blog post that further breaks down this process of choosing your major.
Think about what style of teaching you prefer. STEM related majors tend to have more structured, lecture-based (or laboratory) classes with concrete answers. A liberal arts program will likely have an open, discussion-based classroom, plenty of reading, and assign papers that will allow you to have some control over what you write. If you have a more subjective rather than objective take on life in general, then a liberal arts program is for you my friend.
Like I said, the specific answer to this question lies with the college or university you plan on attending. Generally speaking, your first two years (in a four-year degree program) of college classes will be primarily spent taking general education classes. This means that you typically have until your sophomore year to pick a major. With some STEM fields, you will need to decide sooner rather than later because their degree programs can have a more rigid course structure than a liberal arts program.
If you declare a major, take a couple of the courses required for that degree, and then discover that you hate it, that’s okay. You can do what I and the majority of other students in the U.S. have done; you can change your major. Keep in mind that you may have to stay in school longer to take all of the required courses of your new major. If you like your current major, but also really want to explore another field, check with your academic adviser to see if you can double major and/or declare a minor.
Bottom line, what you decide to major in is your decision and yours alone. It may seem like your degree will brand you for the rest of your life, but the reality is that it absolutely will not. There will be some limits to your career possibilities. English teachers can’t just decide to be medical doctors on a whim without pursuing the proper education, but overall, you are not forever bound to your degree. Simply having a degree can open opportunities that would not be there otherwise. College is meant to be enjoyed, and there’s no sense in making it any more stressful than it has to be.
Nikki holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication, Media, and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University, and became a transfer-student expert in the process. Currently Nikki assists with the content development process for YesCollege, through gathering information and writing about the degree programs in our databases.