Selecting Your Undergraduate Major

What do you want to be when you grow up? Many of us have been answering this question from friends, family, and teachers since we were toddlers. The impact of this life-long, open-ended question is not trivial. Many college students perceive what to study in college as their first significant life decision. Further, many college students agonize over this decision. Here are three tips to make this decision-making process less stressful for you.

  1. Your major doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Jaison Abel and Richard Dietz of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York conducted a study in 2013 in which they concluded only 27 percent of college graduates have a job that is related to their college major. Therefore, the probability that you will find yourself in a profession unrelated to your degree is high. That should take some of the stress out of the decision.
  2. Consider general fields if you are undecided. Unless you have a burning and unwavering desire to study a very specific field, consider opting for a general field of studies such as English, Mathematics, Physics, or Economics. Although some college students feel compelled to pursue a degree that sounds sexier than these reliable options, the fact remains that general fields of study will provide you broad exposure to a field that may open your eyes to a concentration that you can pursue in graduate school. Further, general fields of study tend to require the student to focus on the fundamentals of the field which will likely prepare the graduate to tackle a broad range of job opportunities.
  3. Follow your passion…ish. Reasonable people can disagree on this. Some say follow your passions and the money will follow. Others recommend a more pragmatic approach by recommending fields that historically offer stable job opportunities. The best guidance is likely somewhere in between these two extremes. Make no mistake, a college education is a financial investment and should be treated as such. However, there’s no sense in studying something that you hate. Try to find a balance between your interests and the likelihood of employment after graduation.

Although choosing a major may be your first significant professional decision, it certainly won’t be your last. You will likely find that there are no right or wrong answers in making these decisions. Make the best decision you can based on the information available to you, commit to that decision, and re-evaluate further down the road. There are very few decisions that we make that don’t allow for a strategic exit ramp should you change your mind.