How To Choose Your Major
It’s the elephant in the room in every student’s life; choosing your major. It’s one of the most important decisions of your life. It can cost you upwards of $100,000 and 8 years of your life or more if you change your mind. But no pressure! Some students are fortunate enough to know their path from childhood, others aren’t so lucky.
According to a YouGov survey, 61% of college graduates would go back to change their major. Also, the National Center for Education Statistics claims that 30% of college students change their major within their first three years of school. Choosing a major can be complex and expensive, and it needs to be a top priority for all students and schools. Thankfully, there are several proactive ways to understand what major would be a good fit.
It’s quite daunting how many degree and certificate programs colleges offer today. At Henry Ford College, there are over 150 programs of study. At a larger institution like Eastern Michigan University, there are 529 programs to be exact. How in the world could anyone make up their mind the first time out of all these programs?
No one knows changing their mind better than Henry Ford College student Meghan Muzzin. Out of high school, she wanted to be a neurosurgeon and is now studying graphic design. Because of Grey’s Anatomy and her “hyper fixation” with it, she thought she could be a neurosurgeon like the doctor in the show, so she majored in biology. From there she switched to education, then to business, then to criminal justice, and now graphic design. “My older brothers were a big influence on me.” Meghan said. “Basically, anybody I talked to said them same thing. You have to sit down and find out at your core what you like to do and what you don’t like to do. And find a job that incorporates those two things.” Unfortunately, it’s not that same simple as these stories of changing majors is far too common.
Even Career Services Officer Chad Austin. He had two parents that were teachers, so he figured he would follow suit. It wasn’t until his senior year, student teaching, that he realized teaching wasn’t for him. “I never met with a counselor who tried to say hey, is this the right path for you? I just thought, I was ok at English, so I’ll be an English teacher,” Chad said. This first-hand experience eventually lead Chad to become the head of Career Services at Henry Ford College. Sometimes, the wrong choices lead you exactly where you need to be.
“Student’s come in and get to pick a major on their first day. I think that’s a huge mistake. I would say you need a semester of college taking general education courses. And, be required to see a member of counseling, a member of advising, and a member of career services to help map out where you want to go,” Chad said.
Chad alluded to the different types of problems he sees when students choose their major. They do what their family expects of them, or they are limited by gender roles. Surprisingly, a huge number of students choose accounting simply because it’s the first option they see on the drop-down menu online. Consequently, accounting gets switched out of at a rate higher than most other majors. There are simply too many viable resources to pick the first major you see. “The more knowledge you have, the easier the journey is going to be,” Chad said.
It’s difficult to be self-aware enough to understand your personality and how it coincides with potential careers. Insert the Meyers-Briggs personality test; an introspective self-reporting questionnaire indicating differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. Since 1962, this has been the go-to test for people trying to better understand their personality. The Meyers Briggs test was created with the help of Dr. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. At the end of the test, it will recommend career pathways based on your answers. If this isn’t enough, the Career Services office at Henry Ford has several resources to get you going.
Focus 2 is a self-paced career and education planning tool paid for by the college. This is for all students and works hand in hand with the Career Services office. It’s designed to provide more in-depth academic and career feedback. This is best suited for students with little to no direction on what major they want to pursue. The 45-minute test is broken down into five different self-assessments: work interest, personality, leisure, values, and skills.
Another resource that has a lot of success is OOH or the Occupational Outlook Handbook by the Department of Labor. This is something you can review yourself or with the Career Services office for free. This site, found on bls.gov/ooh/, has jobs within a field you are interested in along with insights about those jobs. Everything from responsibilities to work environment, pay scale, job outlook and more.
Jobshadow.com is another fantastic free resource recommended by the Career Services office. There you’ll find hundreds of lengthy interviews with different professionals, ranging from registered nurses to art directors. But what if these resources recommend jobs that are absolutely of no interest to you, and you’re still stuck? Network, meet people in different fields, meet people close to graduating, and ask good questions.
“The worst thing they can say is no” is a popular quote for a reason, because it’s true. Who says you can’t go out and ask a friend or family member to shadow them at their job? Hop on LinkeedIn and reach out to people working directly in certain fields and pick their brains. Or, Indeed.com gives you real time insights on what the job responsibilities and pay rates look like for certain careers.
There is more to choosing your major than finding what you love. In the real world, you need to consider what you’ll be paid, where you’ll work, and what you’re willing to tolerate. After all your research, how can you organize everything?
A realistic mindset to adopt is the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai. Dating back to 742, modern Japanese attribute Ikigia to their long life expectancies (ranking second in the world). Literally meaning “a reason for being”, is broken down into four categories: what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. Starting from scratch, grouping these four categories together will give you a realistic idea of what to major in. It’s said that knowing your Ikigai can help you design your ideal work lifestyle, create strong social connections at work, create a healthy work life balance, pursue your career dreams and enjoy your work.
Time is the most precious thing you have. Don’t waste it by declaring any major that you’ll eventually change. Money matters, don’t waste it by a lack of research and effort. Leverage your network and use the several resources that Henry Ford offers you. After all, you’re going to spend a large part of your life working. Find something that matters, find something that works, you’re worth it.