High School 2 College

June 25, 2011

Should You List a College Major On Your Application – And How to Decide Which Major is Right for You

For some reason, I’ve had this discussion lately with a lot of adults.  What should kids major in?  What shouldn’t kids major in?  What majors lead to good jobs?  Which majors lead to working at McDonald’s?

I guess I’m not the only one discussing college majors.  Recently, I’ve read several articles listing top careers (where high-paying  jobs are available) and poor career choices (where there are no jobs available and they don’t pay well even if you could get one).

This article from TIME magazine lists 10 best- and worst-paid college majors.  If you click on each major, you will be brought to an article describing the major, common jobs with that major, and average salaries for new employees in that field.

This blog article, “The Most Useless College Majors” agrees.

Science wins.  Journalism loses.

But what about “undecided”?  Should you list a potential major on your college application if you’re not sure?

Sometimes, you have to list a major.  Some majors are housed in their own “schools.” Engineering, for example, often has a discrete faculty, carefully plotted courses, and a fixed number of students.  If you want to be an engineer, you have to let them know.  It’s nearly impossible to transfer into engineering even within the same university.  It’s easy – even common – to transfer out of engineering into math or physics or chemistry or even political science or philosophy, but you can’t go the other way.

If you are choosing an unusual major for that university, definitely list it on applications. If the college has a small physics department and you think you might want to study physics, that might give you the edge that you need to get into an otherwise extremely selective school.

Schools not only want to balance out the number of students in each major, they need to balance the gender in all majors.  Few girls want to go into a major where there are NO boys.  If you are a boy who wants to study English or women’s studies, list that major.  If you are a girl who wants to be an engineer or mathematician or sports therapist, list that major.

If, after reading the above articles warning against it, you still insist on majoring in journalism or psychology, don’t list that major.  Most schools have swollen communications and psychology departments.  If you list that as your major, you’ll be competing against more students than if you just checked off “undecided.”

But what if you have no idea what you want to major in?

Come talk to me.  I hope it doesn’t sound immodest, but I have a knack for suggesting majors to kids that they really like and perhaps hadn’t thought of.

Here are some questions I’ll ask if you want my help choosing a major:

  • What do you and your friends do with free time?
  • What does your bedroom look like?
  • Do you like group projects in school or do you prefer to work alone?
  • Would you rather write a paper or do a project?
  • If you had to waste half an hour at a store while your mom shopped elsewhere, where would you tell her to take you?

Or you could read an article like this one that helps you to identify a college major and subsequent career based on your academic and social interests.

Most colleges don’t require you to confirm your major until the end of your sophomore year in college, so putting a major on your college application won’t prevent you from exploring.

The best advice I’ve ever read about finding a major, finding a career, finding a passion is this one .  It’s rather long, but I find myself nodding my head at every paragraph.

Now get started on those college applications.  Let me know if you need help.

UPDATE:  Take a look at this interesting article from Inside Higher Ed, a newletter for college teachers/professors about choosing a major, about the range of salaries and how “women’s” careers are still the lowest paying.

Wendy Segal


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