In United States colleges and universities, roughly 2,000 majors are offered. Why is your college major important, how do select your major, and how does your major correlate with a career? To help you navigate your pathway from your college major to career success, take advantage of the many resources available to you.
In the United States and Canada, your academic major – simply called “your major” – is the academic discipline you commit to as an undergraduate student. It is the area you specialize in, such as accounting, chemistry, criminology, archeology, digital arts, or dance. In United States colleges and universities, roughly 2,000 majors are offered. And within each major is a host of core courses and electives. When you successfully complete the required courses in your major, you qualify for a degree.
Where did the term major come from? In 1877, it first appeared in a Johns Hopkins University catalogue. That major required only two years of study. Later, in 1910, Abbott Lawrence Lowell introduced the academic major system to Harvard University during his time as president there. This major required students to complete courses in a specialized discipline and also in other subjects. Variations of this system are now the norm in higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
Why is your major important? It is important because it is a defining and organizing feature of your undergraduate degree. Ultimately, your major should provide you with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and/or behaviors you need to fulfill your college goals and objectives.
In this section we look at how to select your major and how your college major may correlate with a career. Does your major matter to your career? What happens if you change your major? Does changing your major mean you must change your career? Read on to find out!
Selecting your major is one of the most exciting tasks (and, to some students, perhaps one of the most nerve-wracking tasks) you are asked to perform in college. So many decisions are tied to it. But if you have good guidance, patience, and enthusiasm, the process is easier. Here are some tips to follow as you consider your college major:
You might also consider the following nine ideas about your career path:
There are few topics about college that create more controversy than “Does your major really matter to your career?” Many people think it does; others think it’s not so important. Who is right? And who gets to weigh in? Also, how do you measure whether something “matters" – by salary, happiness, personal satisfaction?
It may be difficult to say for sure whether your major truly matters to your career. Your college major and ultimate career are not necessarily correlated. Consider the following factoids:
Here to share a personal story about selecting your college major and finding the right career fit is Marc Luber, host of Careers Out There. Enjoy his insights, which he sums up with, “Focus on what makes you tick, and run with it.”
The best guidance on choosing a major and connecting it with a career may be to get good academic and career advice and select a major that reflects your greatest interests. If you don’t like law or medicine but you major in it because of a certain salary expectation, you may later find yourself in an unrelated job that brings you greater satisfaction – even if the salary is lower. If this is the case, will it make more sense, looking back, to spend your time and tuition dollars studying a subject you especially enjoy?
Every student who pursues a college degree and a subsequent career may tell a different story about the impact of their major on their professional directions. In the following excerpt from Foundations of College Success: Words of Wisdom, writer and former SUNY student Kristen Mruk reflects on the choices she made and how they turned out.
THE STUDENT EXPERIENCE
What I Would Like To Do
I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I started college, but that changed three times by the time I graduated. Initially I started as an International Business major but ended up receiving a degree in Communication and continued on to graduate school. My greatest advice to you is to embrace feelings of uncertainty (if you have them) with regard to your academic, career, or life goals. Stop into the Career Services office on your campus to identify what it is that you really want to do when you graduate or to confirm your affinity to a career path. Make an appointment to see a counselor if you need to vent or get a new perspective. Do an internship in your field; this can give you a first-hand impression of what your life might look like in that role.
To help you navigate your pathway to career success, take advantage of all the resources available to you. Your college, your community, and the wider body of higher-education institutions and organizations have many tools to help you with career development. Be sure to take advantage of the following resources:
Many organizations have free materials that can provide guidance, such as the ones in the table, below:
|1||List of College Majors (MyMajors)||A list of more than 1,800 college majors – major pages include description, courses, careers, salary, related majors and colleges offering major.|
|2||Take the College Major Profile Quiz (About.com)||Quiz is designed to help students think about college majors, personality traits, and how they may fit within different areas of study.|
|3||Choosing a College Major Worksheet (Quint Careers)||A six-step process to finding a college major.|
|4||Best college majors for your career 2015-2016 (Yahoo.com)||Explore a detailed list of the top ten majors that give students the greatest potential for success in the workplace, good incomes, and ample job opportunities|
|5||Explore Careers (BigFuture/The College Board)||Explore careers by selecting “Show me majors that match my interests,” “Show me new career ideas,” and “Show me how others made their choices.”|
|6||The College Major: What It Is and How To Choose One (BigFuture/The College Board)||When to choose a major, how to choose a major, “you can change your mind,” majors and graduate school, and majors and professions.|
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