As we enter the middle of July, back-to-school commercials are returning to screens, and recent high school graduates are starting to prepare for their college arrivals. This time also means students are deciding what college they want to attend and what major they want to pursue. Both are stressful periods many have faced.
Many college students experience heavy burnout and other forms of issues, mentally and physically, during their time as an undergraduate. This happens for many reasons, but partly because most make the mistake of fully committing to a major that does not suit them before exploring other options.
It’s common to feel pressured when going to college, from the process of applications to moving in. Giving in to pressure will likely cause you to choose a concentration you will regret. Though the indecisiveness can be frustrating, there are a few steps I recommend trying that can make the process much smoother:
1. Create a List
The best way to start your decision-making process is by creating a list of things that interest you, i.e., hobbies. A mistake you’ll want to avoid is looking back years later, realizing you spent four years studying something you are unhappy with. There will always be a concentration relevant to whatever interests you have, whether creative or analytical.
Your list should also include your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what you thrive and struggle with will help you find a middle ground in the best area for you. Somewhere in this list will be a common factor of something you are confident you’ll succeed in if you are open to the possibility of improvement.
2. Elective Courses
Most colleges require students to have several elective hours to graduate. If you attend a university with this requirement, I would suggest using this to your advantage to take classes that align with your interests outside of your major.
College is a stressful time. Enrolling in courses that line up with your hobbies will ease your anxiety and create a space for more opportunities. There’s a chance one of those classes becomes something you want to continue pursuing.
Some of the regret that comes with a major is due to a lack of extensive research. When exploring your options, explore the potential career paths relevant to your major and the starting salaries. Reviewing the major’s course catalog before you commit is also essential. If the classes don’t fascinate you in any way, there’s a good chance you won’t love the career that aligns with them.
An important factor when researching majors is determining if the program of the schools you have in mind is intact. This is a common mistake many have made when applying; certain schools are better equipped in a specific major than others.
4. Get As Much Experience Early On As Possible
“Your first decision won’t always be the one you stick with. Don’t stress if your mind changes and you realize what you chose isn’t the one you want to continue pursuing.”Naarah Holloway, rising college senior
It’s normal to wonder if your first choice will be in your heart’s best interest. Getting real-life experience is your chance to determine if your selection is something you can see yourself doing post-grad. Internships are a great way to get this experience because even if you decide it’s not for you, you’ll keep the skills you developed forever.
As an advertising major, I considered entering many fields, one of them being Public Relations. In the first semester of my junior year in undergrad, I acquired an internship with a PR agency. Ultimately, I decided it wasn’t a career that would satisfy me in the long run. The change was scary, but the relief of finally knowing while still getting work experience was exhilarating.
The hunt for internships can be pretty competitive and exhausting, but luckily, it isn’t the only option to get experience in the field.
5. Advice from an Advisor
The best experience you can get is by getting involved on campus, by volunteering, or by joining student organizations. If you’re still unsure and decide you want advice from professionals, try using university resources to connect with college alumni in similar career fields.”Ann Lee
For any questions regarding career goals, major requirements, or your path to graduation, consult an academic advisor. Seeking counsel from an advisor is an excellent way to prepare you before making any decisions as a student.
According to Ann Lee, academic advisor at Ball State University, many students choose their major based on exposure. This includes what their parents do, their community, and what they see on television. “There are so many options; they should explore to know what is out there.”
“If you find yourself wanting to explore something else, you can always have that focus switched into a minor or do a general studies degree,” Lee recommends.
The question she often receives from students is, “Are there going to be jobs when I graduate?” When asked what advice she would give to students who are still searching, she recommended they explore ‘NACE.’ NACE is an organization that works with employers and experts to help students during their search. Undecided students can refer to this organization to focus on what skills are relevant to their major.
Ann leaves one more piece of advice as parting words.
“Things are always adjusting. Not having a major decided allows students the opportunity to explore their options to find a major that will be a good fit for them. As advisors, we want to come alongside them and provide resources to help them learn more about themselves (their interests, skills, abilities, and values) and then research majors and careers that will be a good fit based on that.”Lee
Not being sure what you want to pursue can be nerve-racking, but it is completely normal for everyone, students and non-students alike. There are many obstacles you will face in post-secondary education. You might ultimately decide that college is not for you, which is also okay. Ignore societal pressures and focus on the next best step for you. Hopefully, this guide helps you in some way.