A major dilemma: What should I study?
Think, search, explore. Talk to advisors and other professionals. Your college major may be a clear choice or something you had not considered or even realized existed.
my529 spoke with several high school counselors, university advisors and professors to learn about how students can prepare to select a major, even in high school.
Start thinking about where you’re headed. School-wise, that is.
What your postsecondary education looks like and what you can major in will depend on where you go—college, university or trade and technical school.
“What is the best fit for you?” said John Blodgett, a school counselor at Mountain Ridge High School in Herriman, Utah.
“Cost, tuition, fees, housing [are important], but do they have the course of study [you’re] interested in? What’s campus life like? Activities? Do they have study abroad? Looking at personal circumstances, what kind of scholarships will [you] get?” Blodgett said.
“We talk to students about being curious, persistent, flexible, optimistic and risk taking, and to keep an open mind. [Use] high school as an opportunity to explore different classes … [and] build a foundation,” said Maja Stocking, a school counselor at Timpanogos High School in Orem, Utah.
Her counseling center shares the philosophy of “planned happenstance” with their students, the idea that both planned and unplanned learning experiences have an impact on career trajectory.
By remaining open to opportunities in addition to sought-after events, students might find they are well-suited to a major or career not previously considered.
Explore your options.
Maybe there’s an internship, career/technical education pathway or job fair you can experience during high school. What about Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) concurrent enrollment college classes, honors or advanced classes? Or that elective art or business class?
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all [approach]. We have to be individualized with our students, get to know them, let them know … the reality of our state and country, and help them understand what their options are,” said Stocking.
At the college level, begin by working with the academic advising department; each school has one. At the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the Academic Advising Center houses a Major Exploration Program (MEP), dedicated to guiding students through the process.
“Developing an exploration mindset means taking advantage of potential experiences as opportunities to make connections and learn, and viewing each new opportunity as a potential connection to your future path,” said Lisa Hutton, director of the MEP.
Get to know your advisor.
“Working with your academic advisor [at college] can help you identify where and when you have space for different skill-based classes, new job experiences or leadership opportunities. In terms of careers, we find perceptions of career possibilities can be quite narrow until students take the time to explore and learn what’s out there,” Hutton said.
Think about what you like. No, really.
“Studying something you’re interested in and good at is an excellent place to begin,” said the University of Utah’s Hutton. “It’s important to look at your education as an entire experience rather than simply one major, and to consider that not every student who graduates with the same major graduates with the same experience.”
And if there’s a class that prompts curiosity and excitement about learning, pay close attention, says Brittanie Weatherbie Greco, a senior lecturer in the English department at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Especially if it’s a class “where the people around you are inspiring you to think and grow; those feelings are a good sign this should be your major or field of interest.”
Reach out to people in the know.
Talk with people who work in different fields and participate in job shadow experiences to learn what a typical day is like, said Jennifer Scheffner, counselor at Alta High School in Sandy, Utah. If students enjoy a particular class, Scheffner encourages them to follow up with teachers or counselors to learn more about future careers and majors that utilize the same skills.
Do your homework.
Research different majors, occupations and opportunities. Hutton suggests students research majors using college and university websites, and careers through sites like onetonline.org or LinkedIn. National high school resources include College Board’s Big Future (bigfuture.collegeboard.org), while Utah high school students can access ktsutah.org as well.
What if you change your mind?
“Realize you’re in good company,” Hutton said, citing that up to 75% of students change their major at least once, and offering the MEP (or any school’s academic advisory center) to help students navigate their options.
“If [students] start with an exploration mindset, proactively exploring their interests, and come up with a well-thought-out path, often, they end up making fewer changes. It’s really positive if they put exploration at the forefront,” Hutton said.