Choosing a College Major: Assess Yourself

Choosing a college major can be a demanding task. Not only must you identify the kind of career you want to pursue, but you also have to get clear about what you enjoy and value right here and now. When you understand the skills that you possess and the ways that you perform well in a learning environment, you can narrow down your list of potential schools and majors.

First, Assess Your Skills

By understanding your own skills, you can choose the kind of college degree program that could help you launch your career or give you the boost you need to switch jobs. Although the point of an education is to develop new skills, the most successful college students select a major that allows them to build on skills they have already developed.

What school subjects do you enjoy and perform well at? If you achieve high scores in math, you might focus your list of potential college majors towards accounting or engineering positions. If you write excellent essays in English class, a college major in journalism, marketing, or communications could be a great choice.

Likewise, if you struggle with certain school subjects, you can pursue college majors where those skills don't come into play as frequently. For instance, if you cannot seem to wrap your head around history class, then you may not want a political science degree. Performing poorly in a single class does not have to rule out an entire degree program, however, as long as you give your skills a chance to grow. For example, you could lag behind your classmates in algebra and still excel in business school, as long as you focus on your communications and strategy skills instead of raw math power.

Which College Degrees Fit Your Skill Set?

What tasks do you perform most often at home, at school, or at work? If you already have a job, think about the kinds of skills you use there. If you enjoy working with customers face-to-face at a lunch counter or in a retail store, a business degree can help you develop those superior sales skills. If you babysit for extra money, you might consider a career in education, child care or child psychology and development.

What do other people tell you that you're already good at? If your teachers and family members compliment you on your clear speaking voice, you could grow that skill with a communications degree. If you tell great stories at parties, or you like to imagine fantasy worlds with your children, a college major in creative writing will help you exercise your brain. If you care for an ill child or family member, you can turn your compassionate spirit into a lucrative career with a college major in nursing.

Identify Your Interests

Once you have figured out some of the things you're already good at, brainstorm for a while about the types of skills you would love to develop and the kinds of industries you would enjoy working in.

What do you want to achieve? If you want to make a lasting mark on society, a college degree in science or medicine could put you on the path to developing new technologies or medical treatments. If you can see your name on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, then a college major in business might suit you better (and if you'd rather have a byline in the WSJ, consider a journalism degree). Of course, you could always pursue a double major to give yourself the skills to run a world-class pharmaceutical company!

Choose a College Major You'll Love

What kinds of settings inspire you? If you're energized by lots of activity, a career on the trading room floor of the stock exchange might suit you. If peaceful brooks and meadows resonate with your soul, then a college degree in environmental engineering can give you plenty of chances to commune with nature, and help mitigate mankind's impact on it.

Are you prepared to lead? Previous generations of workers showed up to work and followed routine sets of instructions for their entire careers. In today's information economy, employers demand creative thinking from their team members. You can lead informally, by exploring ideas on your own. If you like the quiet role of an innovator, you can explore college degrees in science and engineering. If you want to take center stage in your community, consider majoring in education, business, or the arts.

How do you prefer to work with other people? Extroverts who love to chat with people tend to excel when they develop powerful communication skills as business majors or communications majors. If you prefer to work alone, you can dive deep into specialized, independent fields with majors in library science, English literature, or mathematics.

Understand Your Values

Your own values play an important role in helping you select the right college degree. After all, you don't want to find yourself in a job you hate, just because you earn a healthy paycheck. Ask yourself the following questions to narrow down your choices even more.

  • Am I motivated by money? You don't have to be Gordon Gekko to enjoy the benefits of a good paycheck. Perhaps you have struggled with money your entire life, and you're tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Maybe you already have a solid bank balance, and you want to learn how to make the most of your time and your investments. College majors in lucrative fields like technology, business, medicine, or law may appeal to you. On the other hand, you may be the kind of person that does not require much cash to enjoy life. You might also view the world in a way that places social good over material gain. If that's the case, you could find yourself at home with a college major in social work, education, or public administration.
  • What kind of organization do I want to work for? If you can see yourself as a highly skilled team member at a large company or in a government agency, you can dive deep into a specialized major like accounting, linguistics, or computer animation. However, if you anticipate working on your own or in a smaller business, you might benefit from a broad college major in liberal arts that helps you wear many hats on the job.
  • How much time will I want to spend away from home? International business majors and consultants in a variety of sectors often put their skills to the test in far-flung locations around the world. But if you want a more traditional job that lets you sleep in your own bed, just about every community in the U.S. needs nurses, teachers and accountants.
  • How much do I like to memorize? If you think of yourself as a bookworm, consider a college major in history or political science. You'll be rewarded for your ability to recall events and passages at random. If you find yourself functioning better in the present and using "muscle memory" to work through tasks, consider a college major in nursing, engineering, or the arts.
  • Do I want to study online? If you need your college education to work around your life, consider online college courses. Some majors, like business and information technology, are more suited to online study than others, but you'll be surprised at what you can learn from your home computer. If you prefer independent study and need flexibility in your education, online college classes are a smart choice.

Putting Them All Together

If you start with a list of all the possible fields you could choose from, like the categories we use here at WorldWideLearn, you can start to cross out fields that might not interest you. As you narrow down your list, you can keep drilling down, until you have a working list of a handful to a few dozen prospective college majors.

Although you won't make your final decision overnight, this process can really help you focus on only the potential college majors that make sense to you. It may even help to put the list down, enjoy a long, relaxing weekend, and revisit the list after you have had a chance to rest.

Narrowing Down Your Degree Options

Once you have narrowed your list to between five and 10 potential majors, dive in deeper. Use our Guide to College Majors to identify some of the best degree programs for each major. Find out if you can enroll in an online degree program for maximum flexibility. Online college courses allow students with a variety of circumstances and backgrounds to get the exact college degree and career training they need.

Talk to admissions counselors from some of the colleges and institutions that specialize in your ideal college majors. They can put you in touch with alumni who'll share some of their real-world experiences with you. Whether or not you decide to attend their schools, you can use those connections to learn if a specific career path is really right for you.

Finally, remember that choosing a college major is part of your total life learning process. If you pick a major that you end up not liking, many institutions will allow you to transfer to a different major. It's better to learn from a wrong choice early in your academic career than to suffer through a career you don't enjoy. Your future is waiting for you. Start today!

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