ThinkTank Learning Consultant Eugenia Kaw urges high school students to plan their major ahead of time. ( photo)

Choosing a college major may seem like a daunting task when you are still in high school. You are still choosing your next year’s classes, but everyone from your parents to your counselors seems to be asking, “So, what do you think you want to major in college? What are your goals?”

“To declare or not to declare?” You may begin to fret.

But, before you take that leap to declare a major and get it off your back, be aware that a college major is not really all that heavy. It is not who you are or even who you will become. It is just one path on your way to developing as a person. A recent study from CareerBuilder showed that a third of all American college-educated workers were in fields unrelated to their major, and nearly half (47%) said their first job after college was not in fields that they had studied.

So why declare a major at all before you enter a college or university? Doing so can help you in two ways. Firstly, figuring out early what you want to study urges you to reflect upon your interests, skills and values. You can save on college tuition, which may cost an additional $20,000 to $40,000 per year if you have to extend your college stay.  Secondly, you have a higher chance of becoming accepted to universities of your choice. The passion and focus that are required in a university setting is missing when you announce yourself “undeclared.” Your personal statement that you include with your application may become a moot point to college admission officers.

In choosing a major, you should be thoughtful and methodical. You may also want to consider the hard side — whether you can make a decent living with it. Fortunately, any one particular major can lead to several different careers with above average income. For example, a biology major can lead to the following careers among many others: a physician, a medical sales representative, a medical and health service manager, a registered nurse and an educator.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2014 report, the highest paying non-managerial occupations include physicians. But the largest occupations with an above average income, that is, ones with more job positions, exclude physicians, while including registered nurses, general and operation managers (in any field), sales representatives and school teachers. According to the above Bureau, there are in fact many major occupational categories containing many more professions and careers under their umbrella:

  • Management
  • Business and Financial Operations
  • Computer and Mathematics
  • Office and Administrative Support
  • Farming, Fishing and Forestry
  • Architecture and Engineering
  • Life, Physical and Social Sciences
  • Community and Social Service
  • Legal Administration
  • Education, Training and Library
  • Design, Entertainment and Media
  • Healthcare Practitioners
  • Construction and Extraction
  • Installation, Maintenance and Repair
  • Healthcare support
  • Protective service
  • Building, Cleaning and Maintenance
  • Personal Care and Service
  • Sales
  • Production
  • Material Transportation

Knowing the range of careers and professions that exist out there, one can rest assured that a major does not limit one’s job future or life. Nevertheless, your major does concentrate the majority of your university studies under one field. Even interdisciplinary majors are tied by a theme.  So, in order to enjoy your university life, plan your major ahead of time and well. A major is partly practical. It points to certain kinds of jobs and careers. A major is also philosophical. The clusters of courses you are required to take under a major provide you with a set of tools for thinking with specific sensibilities.  You don’t want to be stuck taking many math and engineering courses as an engineering major if literature, and not computational mathematics, is what moves you. While it is theoretically possible to change your major while you are already a university student, it can be very hard in certain circumstances. Most importantly, choose a major that you will enjoy, that will help you grow, and provide you with several options of viable careers that are meaningful to you.

(This article first appeared on ThinkTank Learning and is reprinted here with permission from the author.)

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