How to Pick a Fulfilling Major

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graduation-picBy Sarah Blais – Jan. 5, 2015: 

One of the reasons people are iffy about going back to school is because they have no idea what they want to study. Whether you’re trying to get a degree that will make you more relevant in your current company or you want to completely change your career path, it can be a daunting task. It’s pretty simple to narrow down if you think about what matters to you. Here are some useful ways to find out what you like and don’t like.

Think about your passions

They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Going to school for something you enjoy will make the effort worth it, and you’ll look forward to going to class. Even better, when you graduate and get in the workforce, you’ll be doing something that comes naturally to you. What’s your favorite hobby? What do you talk about non-stop? Do you prefer supportive or leadership roles? What’s your favorite part about your current job?

Be sure to think about it from all angles; if your passion doesn’t make a lot of money on its own, there are ways to make it work, such as opening your own business, working freelance, or offering consulting. According to Forbes, more than 50 percent of the working population last year said they work for a small business, and 52 percent of all small businesses were home-based.

Get your general studies out of the way

One common mistake that college freshmen make is picking their major too soon. National statistics say about 50 to 80 percent of students switch their major and change it about three times before graduation. Starting slow is a good way to get your feet wet for college life. By taking a variety of classes, you’re forced try new things. You can rule out what you don’t like from there. You might discover a class that changes your perspective you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

One of the cheaper ways to do this is to start out in community college. It’s a flexible way to earn your Associate’s degree and give you at least two years to think about what you’d like to do. Even some universities have even bounced around the idea of prohibiting choosing a major until the student’s second year.

Shadow someone in an appealing field

What better way to get to know a career path than to see it for yourself? Shadowing an employee at your dream job or company is a good way to learn the ropes, and even try the job first-hand (if allowed). There’s no commitment, and you can usually do it a few times. Many schools already offer the opportunity to find a shadow for the different degree programs.

You can even take an internship for credit instead of money; by law, unpaid positions must be similar to training in an educational environment and has to benefit the student. Be aware if you decide to go this route though, as employers can easily take advantage of you. Verify their credibility online and through other people who have worked with them.

Pick your guidance counselor’s brain

They’re not just there to walk you through enrollment and then ditch you. Guidance is right in the name! If you’re having trouble choosing among a few ideas, your counselor can help you narrow it down. They’re the best source of knowledge on how the degree programs at your school work.

At some colleges, there are counselors who specialize in a certain industry. They can tell you how the prospects are for your degree choice in the real world. Don’t be afraid to switch counselors if you have to; many schools assign them based on your last name, but that’s not very helpful if you’re interested in biochemical engineering and your counselor majored in English.

Before you head to your school’s portal and make it official, do a little more homework. Check the prospects for your major, starting by seeing how much it pays. Keep in mind your degree is all what you make of it. If you’re committed to what you choose, there will always be a way to make money from it.

Remember, there’s no pressure to pick a major the moment you enroll for college. Even if it doesn’t work out the first time, there’s room to try something else.

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Sarah Blais is an education writer based in New York City. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communication in from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State.

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