When I first started college, I was still a few weeks shy of my 18th birthday. I’d never been away from home before, and the thought of being in a totally new environment—and all of the freedom that came with it—was super exciting.
And with good reason.
My first semester of college was nothing short of amazing. I was meeting new people every day, trying out all sorts of new clubs, and taking fun classes like Yoga and The History of Hip-Hop for actual course credit. Although I was most definitely sleep-deprived 90% of the time, looking back—it was one of the happiest times of my life.
But then a bomb was dropped on me: it was time to choose a major. My advisor told me that I could only stay under a General Studies degree for so long before I’d be forced to pick something more specific. It sounds easy enough, but the decision felt colossal to me. I mean, I was still getting used to doing my own laundry and cooking my own meals (i.e., ramen and microwaveable cinnamon buns). How was I suddenly expected to pick what I was going to do for…the rest of my life?
If you’re stressing over picking a major, 1). Know that you’re not alone!, and 2). Keep reading. Below are five tips that I wish someone would have told me when I was in the same situation.
What I Wish I’d Known Before Choosing a College Major
1. Change, change, and change again.
With typical colleges offering more than one hundred majors, no wonder it’s a hard decision to make. My number-one piece of advice when it comes to choosing is to try out different things.
Sometimes you have to get your feet wet—several times—before you can find out what you like (and don’t like). I entered as a biology major before switching to psychology, and eventually choosing my graduating major (Spanish).
But throughout that first semester, I even contemplated a few other possible concentrations! I changed so many times that I’m pretty sure my guidance counselor was afraid to see me walking into her office, but you know what? I don’t regret a thing.
Choosing a major that fit me perfectly was only possible through a few good rounds of trial-and-error.
2. Just because you have one tough class doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong major.
In college, we all inevitably have to take courses that don’t exactly set our hearts ablaze with passion. This is especially true for the first two years or so, because most classes are general and mandatory. But the good news? The higher up on the college ladder you creep, the more specialized—and therefore more interesting—your classes become.
During my senior year, I got to take a class entirely on Spanish crime fiction! But to get there, I had to suffer through a few challenging (and exponentially less-exciting) grammar classes. If I had quit when the going got tough in the beginning, I never would have reached the prize at the end.
3. Picture what your future career would look like.
Initially, I started college with the hopes of becoming a genetic counselor. I’ve always had an (admittedly nerdy) interest in how DNA interacts with our everyday lives, so I thought this would be the perfect career for me. But after I met up with an actual genetic counselor to see what her days consisted of, I found that it was absolutely not the right path for me.
While I had fantasized something entirely different in my head, she told me that she spends the bulk of her days either in a laboratory or having difficult conversations with families. The job perfectly suited her personality type, but I couldn’t imagine myself having the same sort of job satisfaction. Talking to a professional in your desired field is a great way to find out everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly—about your prospective career.
4. Know that your future career might not have anything to do with your major.
This is a truth bomb that may be hard to digest, but hear me out on this one. Yes—choosing a major is a major (pun intended) life decision. However, many people I know are in careers that aren’t even remotely related to their college majors.
For example, one of my friends with an art degree now works in animal conservation. When employers look for new-hirees, sometimes they value skills, experience, and willingness to adapt to a new role over your actual degree title.
Instead of thinking of your major as a definitive category in which you have to stay, try seeing it as a door that opens a number of possibilities that maybe you hadn’t even considered.
5. Trust your gut.
I’ve always known that Spanish and writing were my ultimate passions, but a little voice inside my head used to tell me that I could never make careers out of them.
But one day during my sophomore year in college, one of my Spanish professors took a break during class and pulled me aside. “You should really consider majoring in Spanish or writing,” she said. At the time, I was a psych major and was just starting to realize that perhaps psychology wasn’t my thing.
My professor’s encouraging words were literally life-changing—she gave me the courage to follow the advice that I’d (subconsciously) known all along. If a major seems to fit almost seamlessly along with your natural strengths, the decision will be a no-brainer.
Fast-forward a few years, and I’m 100% happy that I chose the majors that I did. I honestly enjoy the work that I do every single day, and that in itself is a blessing beyond words. However, I know that if I ever decide to switch career paths, that it will be completely do-able, as well.
So…keep these tips in mind, take a deep breath, and enjoy the arduous (yet exciting!) process of choosing a major.