Why Majors Matter and How to Choose a Good One

What’s the point of getting students to pick a major before even going to college?

Some people believe students should experience college for a year or two before settling on a major. However, consider these facts:

  • Fewer than 50% of students graduate in four years. Most students end up switching majors, transferring or dropping out. Understanding what you’re good at ahead of time can save you years of wasted time and energy.
  • About 50-80% of students change major at least once.
  •  A recent study showed students who choose a major closely aligned with their interests are much less likely to change their major. (College Choice Report)
  • Various studies have shown that students who choose a major closely aligned with their interests get better grades and are more likely to graduate on time. (Tracey & Robbins, J. of Vocational Behavior, 2006, 64-89, Allen & Robbins, J. of Couseling Psychology, 2010, 57, 23-35)

  • A student’s major is more likely to affect their salary and chances of being employed after graduation than the college they went to.

High school students can be very different in planning their futures. Some students have known what they want to do with their life since childhood. However, it's more likely that a student may have no clue what they want to do for their career, and is overwhelmed when trying to determine the best major.      

How to Choose a Major

Before a student chooses a major, have them ask themselves the following questions.

1. What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing? 

Choosing a major that is closely aligned with strengths and interests is the best predictor of college success. However, students are often very limited in this respect because they aren't familiar with many career options and they may not have had enough experience to determine by themselves what it is they are best at and enjoy. 

Having a student fill out some personality tests and other assessments may help. For a fast and accurate method of measuring personality, strengths and interests, use Majors Matcher.

2. What are some of my future dreams and goals?

Students should consider any future dreams, plans and goals outside of pursuing an education. Does this student dream of traveling the globe? Or do they want to settle down in their hometown? Do they want to start a family, own lots of pets, live off the land, wear a suit and tie every day? Have a student really think about these possibilities and how a major of interest could support those goals. 

3. What kind of lifestyle do I want? How much money do I want to make?

Students should be aware of the reality when it comes to future salaries and potential job prospects. If a student decides to pursue an engineering degree (with an average starting salary of $60,000), they can afford to go to a pricier school and take on more debt. However, if they’ve decided child development is their passion, they should consider going to a less expensive school so they won’t be overwhelmed with a high student loan payment after they graduate.

As a counselor, what have you found to be the best questions to ask students to help them begin thinking about choosing a college major and a future career?