Deciding what to study? It doesn't have to be rocket science.
Pursue the path that calls you.
As you gear up for college, one of the first things you'll think about is your major. In addition to general education courses, your major will be a significant part of your academic experience.
But...how do you pick the right one?
In This Guide:
1. Reflect through self-assessment
Choosing a college major is an important decision, and just like any decision it's worth taking time to reflect inwardly. As you review different majors, you'll want to assess your interests, strengths, and goals.
Your interests are the things that you like to do — what you enjoy and find stimulating.
- Reading fiction novels
- Fixing broken things around the house
- Playing music
- Conducting scientific experiments
- Practicing environmental stewardship
- ...and much more
Being interested in something does not necessarily mean that you are good at it (and vice versa) — this is what distinguishes an "interest" from a "strength." For the purposes of this reflection exercise, try to focus on anything that grabs your attention or piques your interest. When you choose a major that is related to your interests, you are more likely to be engaged during your studies and in related career paths.
Ready to identify your interests? Check out the free O*NET Interest Profiler, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Your strengths are the things that you are good at — your natural gifts and talents.
- Offering empathy toward others
- Communicating in written or verbal formats
- Thinking creatively
- Making precise measurements
- Adapting to changing conditions
- ...and much more
Strengths can be in academic subject areas (e.g., writing, math, science), or they can be in more general skill areas (e.g., problem-solving, communication, active listening). Every person is born with a unique set of strengths, and it is vital to know the ones that you have to offer.
When you choose a college major that builds on your natural strengths, you are more likely to develop employable skills and become a top performer in doing what you are best at.
Want to know your strengths? Take the free VIA Character Strengths Survey. The report will provide an analysis of 24 total strengths to help you see what makes you shine the brightest.
Your goals are what bring everything together — your future connecting to your present and past.
- Becoming a knowledgable and compassionate advisor to people in need
- Building a toolkit of effective leadership skills to use as an aspring manager
- Gaining proficiency in a new language (spoken or computer-based)
- Writing a peer-reviewed article that gets published in an academic journal
- Performing a full-length concert in front of a live audience
- ...and much more
Ideally, your goals should incorporate your interests and your strengths in order to feel engaged in your work. Make sure to consider how your long-term goals intersect with major options that are available to choose from. This may include specific educational requirements (e.g., certain college courses) as well as extracurricular experiences (e.g., internships, pre-professional hours, research experiences).
Looking to clarify your goals? It can be helpful to write out each goal in SMART format (Specific-Measurable-Achievable-Relevant-Time Bound). You can search online for various worksheets to help you organize goals using this approach.
Remember: time is on your side
For most majors and at most universities, you are able to change your major during your first or second year and still graduate within four years. Some universities, such as Cal Lutheran, allow you to begin as an Undeclared Major so that you do not feel forced to decide until you are ready. But don't procrastinate too long — take steps toward learning about yourself and exploring options early in college.
2. Look at learning outcomes
When you decide to attend college, you're making an investment in your future self.
As with any investment, it's important to consider what you'll get out of it. By reading
student reviews, talking to current or former students, and experiencing the facilities
on a campus tour, you'll want to consider the outcomes of your college major.
What makes a good major?
Exciting Course Options
Relevant Concentration Areas
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Internships for Credit
Career Skills & Preparation
Access to Alumni
Program Learning Outcomes can help you decide
Of the many ways to evaluate the outcomes of a college major, "Program Learning Outcomes" are one of the most practical tools. These include the skills and knowledge that you are expected to acquire by the time you graduate with a college major. When choosing a major, you should explore the Program Learning Outcomes to make sure that what you will learn is aligned with your interests and goals — a "cheat sheet" for your road ahead. Does it seem like the learning outcomes give you relevant qualifications, when you compare them to descriptions for your dream job after college?
3. Review statistics...within reason
Although it's most important to consider the unique aspects of a major at each individual college, it may also be helpful to review major-related statistics, like average salary or job placement rates. However, many statistics can give an exaggerated impression (either good or bad) of a major, so be sure to think critically during your review.
Here are some questions to consider:
What is the source?Make sure the statistic was generated by a reliable and unbiased organization, such as the National Center for Education Statistics or the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How wide is the scope?Does the statistic pertain to all types of colleges or only certain types? Are all students accounted for or only select demographics? Is location used to narrow down results? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but these types of factors determine how statistics are generated and therefore impact how applicable they are to your individual situation.
When was the data collected?The job market and the salary potential for different majors can change over time, so it is important to use statistics that are up-to-date.
Not all numbers are created equal, so you'll want to focus on specific statistics when researching college majors:
- Starting salary: This is the average salary that graduates of a particular major earn in their first year of work.
- Mid-career salary: This is the average salary that graduates earn after several years in their field, and it does not always correlate with starting salary.
- Job prospects and growth: This is the outlook and projected growth in the number of related jobs for a particular major over the next decade.
- Unemployment rate: This is the percentage of graduates of a particular major who are not currently working.
- Satisfaction: This is the percentage of graduates of a particular major who are satisfied with their choice.
Ultimately, the most important factors to consider are your own interests, strengths, and goals. What do you want to do after college? What are you passionate about? No matter how strong the statistics are about a major, it is vital that you choose one that feels like a good fit for you.
4. Get input from people you trust
Just like an investigative reporter, it is critical that you uncover multiple perspectives
of the "story" about each major. Once you have done your initial research by reviewing
the information you can readily find online, the best way to move forward is to start
Who should you ask about college majors?
Alumni and Professionals
These are the people who have been in your shoes at one point in time. They have studied your major (or a similar subject) at your college (or a similar institution), and they can now tell the tale about what it is like out in the "real world".
Advisors (Academic and Career)
These are the advocates on your high school or college campus who have specialized training and knowledge. Be sure to meet with them early and often to pick their brain on anything you are curious about regarding major options.
Friends and Family
These are your closest connections. They care about you deeply, so they likely want to help. They may come in with strong opinions about what they think is best for your future, so you can use the tips on this page to help the conversation.
How can you talk about college majors with alumni and professionals?
Referred to as an "informational interview," this is a conversation to learn about a job, field, and real-life experiences.
Begin by reaching out to people you know to ask if they have a friend who works in your field of interest or studied your major. You can also search online using tools such as LinkedIn Alumni to find people. Then, introduce yourself with a brief paragraph to explain why you are interested in speaking with them. Once you have a meeting scheduled (via phone, virtual, or in-person), it is time to start preparing.
- Do your research. Before the interview, learn as much as you can about the person and the field they work in (check out our Career Exploration tools for some initial sources). This will help you to ask more informed questions.
- Be respectful. Plan to be on time for the interview and dress professionally. Show the person that you appreciate their time.
- Gather questions. Come to the interview with a list of questions that you want to ask. This will help you to make the most of your time.
You are the leader of this conversation — imagine that you are a podcast host — so prepare to make an impression. Ask thoughtful questions that take up no more than 20-30 minutes and take notes as needed.
Example questions include:
- How did you get started in this field?
- What is a typical day like in your work?
- What do you like most about your job, and what are some of the larger challenges that you face?
- Who or what inspired you to do this work?
- What advice would you give to someone who is interested in a career in this field?
- Which qualifications are most important for entry-level candidates that are hired in this field?
At the end of the conversation, thank them for their time. Ask if they have any resources that you can look over (e.g., articles, websites, books) or if they know any contacts who would be good to speak with further.
Within the next week, write the person a thank you note. This shows gratitude, allows you to speak to something specific you will do based on their recommendations, and encourages the likelihood of staying connected. Pro Tip: a $5-10 Starbucks gift card can be a nice touch.
Remember, speaking with new and existing contacts is not just a form of invaluable learning about majors and careers, but it is also a great networking strategy. By sending check-in notes to update your contacts on your journey every 3-6 months, you can keep these people in your network and potentially learn about exciting job and internship opportunities through them in the future.
Looking for more tips on informational interviews?See what our Career Services office has shared about this useful method of exploring majors and careers.
5. Focus on gaining experience
There is strong research to suggest that your choice of major has less impact on your
future success than your choice of field/industry and extracurricular preparation.
Take some time to consider the many ways to gain meaningful experience in college,
no matter your major.
Student Clubs and Organizations
Conferences and Professional Organizations
Internships lead to jobs in a number of ways. You gain relevant experience, skills, and contacts who eventually become your references. According to NACE, over 50% of employers hire their interns, so an internship is like an extended interview. If you attend college near a major city (e.g., Cal Lutheran is within reach of Los Angeles County, Ventura County, and Santa Barbara County), you will have the luxury of location with internship and employment options in many industries.Cindy Lewis
Executive Director of Career Services at Cal Lutheran
Want to learn more?
Complete this form and we'll add you to our email list.
We'll also keep you updated on admission deadlines and tell you more about our academics and campus life.