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How to Choose Your Major

There are many decisions you are going to make when deciding on a college. Perhaps almost as important as where is what. What kind of major will you pursue?

Many students like yourself may wonder how others decided on their major. Maybe you are the parents of the students trying to remember how you decided. Either way, there are far more tools than ever before.

One important thing which we recommend is to be excited. Choosing a major is about opening-up possibilities in your future. It is an opportunity to do amazing things.

Just remember, you have friends and partners in this. Both the community at The Pond, friends, relatives, and a great selection of tools.

So, let’s get started on some of the fantastic options you have. One major area is self-evaluation. As teenagers or parents, you probably do this a lot to begin with. Wondering what kind of person you are and what you really like is normal. There are tools to help do this scientifically. Knowing what you like or don’t is a great start. Organizing this information will help you decide on the next steps.

Another set of tools helps you take this knowledge further. By connecting who you are and what you like, you can predict how future careers will fit you. One of the biggest things about careers is not just content but culture fit. Does it produce a lifestyle you like? Does it fit with the way you like working?

You have taken a really important step by reading this. Being proactive is a great start. There are only right answers when you do enough research. Discovering something is a poor fit can also be really helpful. It will give you the knowledge necessary to define what you really want.

Another recommendation we have is to give yourself time and space. I think we all know people who hold off on decisions until the end. At the last minute, those people often decide out of desperation, not out of certainty. To protect against this, use your time effectively. Be as scientific as possible. There are tools to help and aid you, so you can proceed without stress.

It may also help to decide what you know to be a red flag. If you worked part time as a bookkeeper and hated it, studying to be an actuary may be a poor choice. Try and list down the pros and cons you know about future careers. Do research. See what types of people take on these careers. These may be your peers in the future. Would you want to be around people like that?

Remember to look at people at all levels of positions. It takes years for people to develop expertise and get promoted. 5 years of grueling hours may be a big turn off for some careers. Other careers may require travel, which may interfere with important relationships. For others, the exploration aspect may be a plus.

Below are some strategies that you can use to help narrow what is a good major for you.

Strategies to Help You Choose Your Major

To begin, here are three important questions to ask yourself. It might also help to put this in a list and assign numbers. How important is this to you. Eventually you can tally the results or break it into categories to isolate personal priorities.

1) How much structure do you want in your day?

Related questions: Are you a person who wants to start work with clear instructions? Are you someone who would prefer others to make decisions? Are you someone who wants clarity about what will happen in the day? Do you want work to be predictable and scheduled?

Reasoning: The more structure there is, the more easily it may be to get work life balance. The more unstructured it is, the more you can be independent and creative. Though there are majors and careers which feature both, there are many which fall on one side. (Depending on the career, there is not a large difference in eventual pay.)

Jobs with structure*: School counselors, chiropractors, engineers, technicians, teachers, instructors, physicists, physical trainers, librarians, dental assistants, statisticians, pharmacists, programmers, pilots, accountants, and electricians.

Jobs without structure*: Designers, account managers, sales, traders, lawyers, firefighters, doctors, historians, researchers, recruiters, consultants, and therapists.

*Note: this list is for reference and is not exhaustive. Not all jobs within this fields are simply one thing. These are anecdotal trends.

2) Do you like collaboration?

Related questions: Are you a person who likes to work in a team? Are you someone who likes to communicate? Are you someone who feels comfortable interacting with others all day? Are you someone who likes to work independently? Are you someone who wants to be praised individually? Are you someone who can deal with the stress involved with negotiating when others disagree? Or are you someone who does not want to argue and wants to make individual decisions?

Reasoning: There are some jobs which involve collaboration but essentially each piece is done independently. There are majors which favor group work and decisions. This means you may not always get what you want. In fact, the larger the group, the less say you may have. At the same time, larger projects and things are often collaborative. Buildings, software, movies, video games, government policy, business deals, discoveries, inventions are often collaborative.

Examples of collaborative careers: Data scientists, consultants, policy advocates, media planners, event planners, human resources, financial advisors, sales, public relations, marketing, social media marketers, nursing, acting, and coaching.

Examples of non-collaborative careers: Accountant, developer, archivist, librarian, photographer, mechanic, psychiatrists, doctors, translators, veterinarians, and writers.

3) Do you have a specific region or climate you want to be part of?

Related questions: Do you want to live abroad? Do you want to be in an urban setting or a rural setting? Do you want to have options to move between both areas?

Reasoning: There are some jobs which you can travel with. There are other jobs where travel is part of the job. There are also certain sectors and industries which are related to specific regions. Some states have more IT related jobs. Others have strong aerospace sectors. Others have power plants, large automotive industries, or manufacturing sectors. Living abroad is more complex as it may involve learning another language. This may also require learning skills which make one desirable for international companies.

Examples of geographically related jobs: City planner, oil related engineering, aerospace engineers or designers, automotive designers, automotive automation specialists, material engineers, certain types of researchers, structural engineers, real estate agents, and actors.

Examples of jobs which have more freedom of location: Dental hygienist, doctor, police officer, firefighter, politician, electricians, and mechanics .

There are a lot of other questions you can ask yourself of course to help define.

It is important to think about these questions so that you can find alignment with who you are. Another important question that we encourage students to ask is: do I know anyone in that major? This question is about culture fit. For instance, there are often cultural and political aspects of work. We recommend you look on Twitter, Instagram or other social media to follow some people who went to majors you are interested in. See what kinds of people they are. Although this kind of anecdotal research is not always representative, it can give you some idea of what types of people you might meet.

This activity is intended to be positive. Focus on what you like and avoid negatives about what you want to avoid. It should be exciting as you are opening up a world of possibilities.

Tools to Help you Discover your Interests

There are numerous online resources that offer self-assessment tools, and suggest potential career paths on your results.

Harvard’s self-assessment tool on their website uses the Myer’s-Briggs personality test to algorithmically recommend careers that align with your personality type.

Harvard’s site has another test called the Strong Interest Inventory. The Strong Interest Inventory gives a full assessment of your interests. From here, it recommends careers based on the personal interests you have shown.

Take advantage of these resources to learn more about culture fit. There are many majors and industries you can belong. In fact, there might be many equally great chances. Use these tools to help you narrow down to what fits you best.

Tools to Help you Discover Potential Careers

To learn about careers and their earning potential, research information on numerous career salaries and create a list of careers that appeal to you. You can also correlate this with the lifestyle you want to have from a financial point of view. CareerOneStop is a website that offers resources on personal career exploration through a suite of self-and-skills assessment tests.

Their site includes statistics on domestic US careers and provides information like median salary for different occupations along with education levels.

Growth may also be important to you as growing industries tend to be easier to find employment, have higher salaries and better incentives.

Think about occupations that match the skillset you intend to develop. There’s an online tool called Skills Matcher that suggests jobs based on your skillset.

The Skills Matcher tool lets you rate what you consider your level of skill and provides benchmarks to assess the difficulty of each group. Use these existing resources to think realistically about different jobs. This is also a good opportunity to imagine whether you can picture yourself doing any of those things.

If you can use the people around you as a resource, asking them for feedback about your skills can be helpful. This can include family and friends. Remember though that no one knows you better than yourself. Although some parents may hope their children become doctors, sometimes those children may want something else. It is okay to make your decisions. It can be valuable though to get feedback.

There are also online forums like Reddit, Medium and other online community forums or discussion groups. Remember though that people on the internet may misjudge you. There are also others who may have agendas. If you do use these media, remember to take the positive. The negative comments are rarely helpful and almost always inaccurate.

All of these resources though can help you discover better ways to understand potential majors. They can also help you figure out what are important factors in deciding what is a good fit. Trust yourself and your instincts.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Administrative work is often a stable desk job with predictable hours and is available in almost all parts of the country. At the same time, this may require you to be on the phone all day, sometimes with people who are quite angry.

Most jobs have good parts and bad parts. What you sacrifice in time, it pays for in salary. Or vice versa. Some jobs are easy to get but that is because they are stressful and have low retention and high turnover. (In these fields people quit really often)

Some majors are more involved than others. Some are more flexible with opportunities later on. Careers are not the only thing you should consider. If it is something you are interested in and passionate about, there are often ways to build careers. One third of the CEOs of fortune 500 companies have degrees in liberal arts. So, only choosing a degree based on a career can be a mistake at times. Meanwhile, burnout is another important consideration. If you force yourself to graduate and work in a career you aren’t suited for, you may be more likely to experience burn out. Over 40% of American workers currently say they feel at least partially burnt out. (Burn out refers to strong feelings of depression, frustration and lethargy related to work)

Finding something that fits you is important and meaningful. You will find something that works for you. Having the tools is simply a shortcut. If you ever have something you want to discuss, please visit our Discord.

Once you have started to define what matters to you, work backwards to see which college majors are best suited to you.

Work backwards based on your careers or interests.

These questions are valuable because they force you to confront what you think are your best assets and core competencies. If you’ve compiled a list of potential careers that interest you, connect the dots and research which degrees are best suited to that career path.

If these are still large question marks, no problem! Just consider how to prepare for the next step based on what you know now. What interests you and what makes you feel passion, is a great place to start. You can figure out the details later.

There are many factors involved in your decision on which major to choose. Potential career satisfaction, coursework, prospective career income, understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes along with values and priorities. You may also consider whether you want to get an advanced degree, like a masters, or a professional degree, like a law degree or medical degree.

Even from reading this article, you are making progress and being proactive in your search for a subject major. Continue reading and researching, be selective about the information you consume. Finding the major that suits you takes work, but it’ll pay off in the end—literally and figuratively.

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