What is a College Major, and How Should You Choose One

Table of Contents

Your College Major Can Be a Path to a Great Career

College majors help you build knowledge and skills in a subject you're passionate about. Because today's employees move about and don't declare lifelong loyalty to a single company, employers increasingly rely on colleges and universities to grow skills that were once developed during in-house training and development programs. Many industries now require workers to complete a degree program before entering the workforce.

Why Do I Need a College Degree?

Large employers have scaled back their internal training and development programs, relying instead on colleges and universities that can handle those tasks more efficiently. Though a growing number of businesses provide their employees with tuition reimbursement programs to cover the cost of ongoing career training, most job seekers competing for entry-level positions must invest in their own professional development.

Therefore, to compete effectively in today's job market, a college degree is an essential tool that can assure potential employers that you have the basic skills to handle new assignments. By enrolling in an accredited degree program, you can prove your skills and back up your claims with a solid college record.

How Do I Choose a Major?

Despite possible pressure from your family, from your community, and from society at large to select an appropriate (read: lucrative) college major, your decision does not have to cause you any grief. In many cases, your gut instinct will give you a good idea about the kinds of jobs you may want to pursue. Discovering the kinds of college degrees held by people who work in your desired field is the first step to choosing the right major.

Many high school students can benefit from the guidance of knowledgeable college advisors and career counselors. These experts can help analyze your academic performance and your interest in extracurricular activities to suggest some potential college majors. For example, if you excel in history classes and enjoy participating in your school's debate team, a counselor might suggest studying political science. Likewise, strong math skills and an active role in your schools' Junior Achievement program might suggest your inclination toward a business major.

College Degrees for Nontraditional Students

On the other hand, if you have decided to return to college after raising a family or gaining experience as a member of the work force, your choice of college major might seem a little hazy. You may enjoy your current career, but find yourself losing competitions for lucrative promotions and leadership opportunities because you lack a formal degree. Alternately, you may have grown bored with your current career. A degree in a different college major can push your professional life to the next level--and you can take online college courses to earn your degree, without quitting your job or letting your personal life suffer.

Build a Broad Base for Career Development

Concentrations and specializations will contribute to your career success--but flexibility is also key

The average person in today's business world changes careers six or seven times during their lifetime. This is a radical shift from the job market of only three decades ago, when many workers still entered a company on the "ground floor" and stayed with the same employer through retirement. Success in today's global economy requires flexibility, creativity, and the ability to transfer skills between different work environments.

Therefore, both on-campus and online colleges and universities offer a variety of contemporary, career-focused degree programs to help students prepare for the challenges of today's economy. Although the point of a college major is to specialize in a particular discipline, most colleges and universities expose students to a growing range of courses that help them navigate careers in all areas of that discipline.

Double Majors

Because both flexibility and specialization matter to today's employers, you may want to consider a double major in complementary areas. For example, a double major in business and a foreign language makes you a far better job candidate for an international corporation than a graduate in either of those majors alone. Students who pursue double majors in history and journalism can pursue careers as writers, analysts, television producers, or even politicians.

With an unusual double major, such as mathematics and fine arts, or technology and sociology, students can transform themselves into the ideal candidates for incredibly unique jobs later in their careers. At the same time, their broad bases of knowledge allow them to pursue positions in either of their chosen specialties, making it much easier to find a job after graduation.

Still, you do not have to choose a double major to make yourself attractive to prospective employers. Within each college major, you can select concentrations that emphasize skills in specific areas of a field. You can also take advantage of elective courses that expose you to lots of ideas and disciplines that can help shape your unique approach to your work.

Not All Degree Programs are Alike

How to discover which college or university is right for you

Once you have decided to pursue a certain college major, you must identify colleges and universities which offer degree programs that appeal to your personal style and sensibility. For example, a film program at a school that emphasizes documentary work will contain many different courses than one that cultivates directors of Hollywood blockbusters. Ask yourself the following questions to clarify your own expectations for your college degree.

  1. How "Hands-On" Do You Want to Get?
    Some college majors allow students to begin practicing in their field from the very first day of class. Other programs run students through rigorous years of theory before allowing them to practice their craft. Although both methodologies produce equally skilled graduates, enrolling yourself in a college major that does not fit your personal learning style can result in years of frustration. For degree programs that encourage you to apply your knowledge immediately to your current career, consider taking online college classes.
  2. What Kind of Environment Inspires You?
    Some students feel that they perform much better in large, anonymous lecture hall settings than in small groups. Other students crave as much one-on-one interaction with faculty members as possible. Online degree programs allow students to interact with each other and with professors in an almost constant barrage of electronic chat and bulletin board messages.
  3. How Does Your Degree Program Reflect Your Interests?
    From school to school, the departments that cover your chosen college major might vary wildly in everything from political sensibility to geographic orientation. For example, if you want to specialize in the business of emerging markets, you will probably find more compelling courses at a school that offers a business major with a strong international emphasis than one that focuses on U.S. business.

Your College Degree Program is Not Carved in Stone

Explore options for switching majors and tailoring programs to your needs

Many new college students, especially at the undergraduate level, feel hesitant about selecting a college major. Some students feel that their selection will lock them into a particular career for life. Other students worry that they might not like their chosen college major, but that they will not be able to change their minds later in their lives.

While previous generations of students usually had to settle for their initial choice of college major (and therefore career), today's competitive college landscape offers students unprecedented flexibility. If you're not happy with your current major, you can take advantage of this environment to switch to a college major that better meets your needs.

If you still feel unsure about committing to a specific college major at the undergraduate level, many college advisors recommend enrolling in a comprehensive liberal arts degree program. The backbone of most colleges and universities, a liberal arts major will expose you to the widest variety of general subjects and disciplines. In most cases, if you decide to select another college major before your junior year, you can convert your completed liberal arts courses into electives, using your last two years of a bachelor's degree program to concentrate on your new passion.

Waiting to Choose Your Major

Anticipating such changes of heart, a growing number of colleges and universities offer incoming students the option of participating in an "undecided" program. Over the course of your first year, you can sample introductory courses from a variety of college majors, eventually choosing a major that you like before the end of your second year.

Later in your career, you can sharpen your career focus by pursuing online training in a variety of specialized subjects, from animal care to accounting. If you want to transition to an entirely new discipline, many colleges and universities will grant you credit for work completed during your first undergraduate degree program. As a result, you might qualify to enter a master's degree program in a new field, or you may be able to complete a second undergraduate degree in a different major by completing only a handful of core courses.

Research Your Favorite Majors and Degree Programs

Tips for gathering information on choosing your major and finding the right school

To discover the college major that best fits your needs, use these tips to investigate potential schools and programs.

Start with our website. WorldWideLearn offers a comprehensive selection of on-campus and online degree programs and institutions. Follow our links to explore possible college majors, along with selections of some of the most effective degree programs offered in each field.

Request information from colleges and universities. Using the links on our site, you can request specific literature about your ideal degree program from a variety of institutions. Ask for specific information, including faculty biographies, reading lists, class listings, and course descriptions within your intended major.

Track down some alumni. Admissions counselors and department heads will be eager to connect you to successful and influential alumni from their programs. Alumni will often be happy to share their opinions of the strengths and weaknesses of a particular college major, especially in the context of their professional careers.

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