“You can lead a student to college but you can’t make him think.”

This is particularly true when it comes to choosing a major.

Choosing a major can be one of the most stressful times in a student’s life. Why? Because most students feel like they’ll face the firing line if they make the wrong decision.
“Should I choose what I like or should I choose a major that offers the most money?

Should I choose the easiest major or should I major in what my parents think is the best major?”

Decisions, decisions, decisions, when will the stress ever stop?

Believe it or not, you’re not the only one stressed. Surveys show that the “average American worker” will change jobs five times before they retire. If this is true, why are college students put under so much pressure to choose the “right major”?

As a professor who advises many students on their choice of a major, and as a former student who changed his own major and almost gave his father a heart attack, I would like to offer the following tips in choosing your major:

1. Major in success, not a degree field.

That’s the reason we created this site. Most students are unhappy or unsatisfied with college because they major in minor things. When potential employers asked me about my college major, I always told them that I majored in “success” and minored in public relations (my actual major). (By the way, my first major was computer science). Majoring in success means, regardless of the field you choose, your major won’t determine whether you will succeed in the “real world.” Instead, focus on making yourself the best person you can be (personally and professionally), regardless of your major. Believe me, if you fail in life, it won’t be because of your major.

2. Choose a major only if it will lead you to a job that you would be willing to work for FREE!

A recent survey reported that 85% of working Americans would change professions if they won the lotto tomorrow. Some might ask, “Who wouldn’t?” My answer would be, someone who loves what they do. And I’m one of them. Choosing a major is a lot easier than most students think, but it becomes difficult when society, professors, parents, friends, and circumstances pull us in different directions. Then we find ourselves making decisions out of desperation rather than inspiration.

3. Don’t choose a major based on the dollar value of the major.

Yes, you do need to make a decent living when you graduate. Yes, doctors, lawyers, engineers (and probably 90% of all majors) make more money than teachers do. Yes, your parents want you to be on your own and self-supporting. But what’s more important, your happiness or pleasing others? You’ve heard the saying that “if you do what you love, the money will follow.” The reason you’ve heard it so much is because it’s true. Even if you choose a major because of the financial promises, how far do you really think you’ll go in a job or career you don’t particularly like? That’s right, not far. Purpose proceeds profits, and if you pursue your passion, the profits will follow. Trust me on this one.

4. Work backwards by choosing courses first, then choosing your major.

That’s how I managed to change my major from computer science to public relations. I was doing extremely well academically (3.5 GPA) in computer science, but I wasn’t having a lot of fun. I just couldn’t imagine myself programming computers for the rest of my life (that’s no knock against computer people). So I started sifting through my college catalog looking for courses that seemed somewhat interesting to me. I read each course description and wrote down the names of the most interesting ones. At the end of my exploration of courses, I looked for the major where most of the courses came from and viola! I picked public relations. I don’t think this is the best approach, but it worked for me.

5. Don’t try to make a square peg fit into a round hole.

If you discover what your true passion and personal interests are and your college or university doesn’t offer it as a major or doesn’t offer any courses in it, either start looking for a another college or start taking some correspondence courses. Look for anything that will engage you in what you love. Don’t let your college catalog limit your options, and don’t choose a major because it’s “close” to what you want. “Close” just means you’re going to be “close” to being truly happy with your major. Would you settle for a mate that’s “close” to what you’re looking for or exactly what you’re looking for?

6. Talk to professionals who are having fun in the career you would like to have.

You can either buy the experience or borrow it. I suggest you borrow the experience by conducting informational interviews with people who are working in the kind of job that you want. Ask them for advice on the best major for their field. See what they would do if they could go back to college and do it all over again. Just make sure you don’t talk to an “85 percent-er” — you know, the ones who don’t like their jobs. Find someone who loves their job and loves to talk about it.

7. Don’t choose a major because it’s easier.

Will you graduate? Yes. Will you make good grades? Probably. Will you graduate on time? Perhaps. Will you master the necessary skills and make the necessary contacts to get into the field you really want to pursue? No.

One of the major benefits of college is the opportunity to network. By avoiding the “tough” major that you really like, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to network with the professors in that field and the contacts they’ve established. It’s not just who you know, but who they know and who knows you. Life is simple, either you pay now and play later or play now and pay later. Either way, you’re going to pay. Although parents and professors make choosing a major seem like it’s one of the most important decisions in your life, it’s not. There are many other more important decisions to be made in the “real world” after you graduate, like marriage, your home, your career, children, your faith, your health, etc.

If you would like offer our RWU audience advice on how you chose your dream major, please write us and tell us about it. We would love to hear from you. Thanks for visiting RealWorld University, come again and tell a friend.

Live purposefully. God bless.

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