Congratulations! You’ve decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree. The next step is choosing a college major. This can feel like a momentous decision—and it is. After all, you want to make sure the time and money you’re about to invest will pay off.
Whether you’re going back to school to advance in your field, embark on a new career, finish a degree you started in the past, or achieve a lifelong goal you’ve set for yourself, you’re probably concerned about choosing the “right” major. That is, one that will help you achieve your goals upon graduation.
If you feel unsure about choosing a major, you’re not alone. In fact, 33 percent of bachelor’s degree students change their major at least once within the first three years of college. But you’re determined to get it right the first time. So, how will you decide?
The guidelines below will help you choose a college major that will set you on the path to achieving your goals.
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Consider Your Professional Goals
Start by deciding exactly what it is that you want to get out of your degree upon graduation. Think ahead: Where would you like to be professionally in five years?
As an adult learner, you may already have several years of work experience under your belt. So, the question to ask yourself is, “Do I want to learn more about my present field of study so I can advance in my current career, or do I want to explore a new subject and pivot toward a new specialty altogether?”
Once you have a clearer picture of where you want your degree to take you, start exploring majors and programs that align with your goals. Research the career trajectory of the majors that interest you. What types of jobs do people hold upon graduation? What are the employment rates in the industry? Are there advanced educational opportunities available in the field? If so, are they required?
Weighing these many factors will help narrow your choices down to include only majors that will help you achieve your professional goals.
Align Your Values and Passions
Next, think about the type of lifestyle you value, including what level of earning potential you hope to have in the future. Different majors and industries yield different salaries and benefits. For some, a career that provides financial stability is important. For others, it’s essential that they find a meaningful career that fulfills them on a personal level. Self-reflect and consider what matters most to you before declaring your major.
While you keep in mind your goals for the future, don’t forget about your passions, either. Even if financial security is of utmost importance to you, consider what subjects interest you most. If you’re personally invested in what you’re studying, you’ll be more likely to engage with your coursework, class discussions, and college experience, which can mean better grades, networking opportunities, and, ultimately, career outcomes.
Understand What Is Required After Earning Your Degree
Research the steps required to get from graduation to your dream role, because earning a bachelor’s degree won’t always be the final step in achieving your career goals.
Individuals who pursue certain majors, such as nursing, must obtain additional licensures in their state, or participate in continuing education credits every few years to keep their skills current and maintain their certifications. Other fields may require advanced degrees in order to secure executive-level positions. While these requirements should not stop you from pursuing your goals, it’s important to factor these realities into your decision, as they will require future commitments of time and money.
Explore Degree Programs for Your Major
Without parents, teachers, or high school guidance counselors advising you on your college decisions, it’s up to you to perform thorough research and explore your options. And, as an adult learner, you’re likely balancing personal and professional commitments, including families and full-time jobs.
This means you need a major that can be pursued according to your schedule. Explore the program options offered for your major at the universities that interest you. Are most programs full-time, or are there part-time, online, and hybrid programs that let you learn at your own speed? Find a program that will help you achieve your goals in a format and on a timeline that works for you.
Talk to the Experts
After you’ve done the research, get an outside perspective by connecting with people that can advise you from firsthand experience—current students, professors, or even a local career center. Ask them questions and let them help you alleviate any concerns you may have. Contact a college campus to speak with admissions experts, whose priority it is to help you succeed. They can give accounts of student outcomes by major that can be helpful in your decision making.
If you can, schedule a visit or attend an admissions event for adult learners at a campus near you that offers the major you’re most interested in. You’ll also gain a sense of the faculty you’ll be learning from, which is important, as they will be crucial to your success. The faculty in your major will serve as mentors and advisors, who can help you discover new interests, develop fresh skills, and make your next career move.
Remember to Trust Your Instincts
While it’s important to weigh several factors before choosing a college major, ultimately, it’s your decision. Trust your instincts to help guide you. It’s important to remember that a bachelor’s degree is a stepping-stone toward your personal and professional goals—not the final destination. That said, the clearer you are on what you want to do following graduation, the easier it will be to find a program that aligns with your goals.
Start thinking about your options early, stay organized, and reach out to experts for support. In the end, only you can decide which degree program will work best for you. No matter what major you choose, with commitment, resilience, and hard work, you can find success