Electing Your Major

As students get ready to embark on the journey of higher education, choosing a major is a great opportunity to explore, self-reflect and ultimately, to enjoy the start of a pivotal process.

By Natasa Milas

April 2022

Electing Your Major

Students can consult EducationUSA advisers on how to navigate the process of electing a major. Photograph courtesy EducationUSA

 

Choosing a major is an overwhelming process. Often, students find themselves asking and answering questions like what interests you, what would you like to learn in the course of four years and what are your career options in a specific major? If you have a penchant for drawing or theater you will most likely be interested in declaring art or drama as your major. If you know you want to study law or medicine you will choose a major that will help you get into a law school or medical school.

While most colleges will ask you to declare a major in their application, you may also have the option to have your major “undeclared.” It is completely natural to explore different subjects and take general courses in your first and even second year of studies. This helps students gain basic introduction in a variety of subjects and may shed a light on the choice of the major. No matter how sure or unsure you are in your decision, remember that you are not bound to your decision right away. Once you are at your college or university, you can speak to an adviser about changing your major. 

As you begin your search, talk to advisers at the EducationUSA centers before coming to the United States  to study as well as to academic advisers at universities before declaring your major. Whatever you ultimately pick, the general advice is to “love your major.”

Excerpts from an interview with  EducationUSA adviser, Aastha Virk Singh, on electing a major:

What should students look for when choosing a major? What are some of the factors to consider in the process?

Let’s start with understanding what is a major. Your college major is a subject that you will take the majority of your courses in and develop a sound understanding in. It is the area that you will graduate in after you have completed your required courses. Most students will also take general education requirements in the first or second year of a four-year education as this allows for a holistic approach to education and students gain a better understanding of the world. 

Some students might also choose a minor in addition to their major. A minor is coursework in which you explore another field, but not as deeply and widely as your major. A minor can complement your major. For example, a major in public relations with a minor in business administration or a minor in a language.  Some schools allow you to take a double major where you complete two majors but it does add to your workload and might not be for everyone. 

Questions to ask yourself as you choose a major:

  1. What kind of a life do you envision?
  2. Where do you see yourself working?
  3. What are your values, what motivates you, what is important to you, what are your priorities and what matters to you?
  4. What are your academic strengths and where do you get your best grades? Which subjects do you love to learn and which are your favorite classes?
  5. What activities do you enjoy at school or outside of school?

Assessing your aptitude (what can you do well), your interests (what you like to do) and your personality (who you are and what is important to you) will help you understand the kinds of subjects and careers you might be interested in pursuing.

Is it okay not to have a major right away and explore your interests for the first year or two?

It is absolutely fine to not know what you want to study or where you are headed in terms of your career! What is not fine is that students sometimes miss out on researching and gathering crucial information that will eventually help them make this important decision. Many students feel immense pressure in choosing a subject as they graduate from high school and sometimes end up making a hasty decision. Invest in your future by asking questions, you may still not have narrowed down that one major but you will be equipped with information that will help you select the right subjects. Many students also apply as “undecided” to U.S. universities and then decide on their final major after a year. U.S. higher education, with all its uses and advantages, is designed to aid exploration and introspection. 

What are the most popular majors for Indian students?

According to the  2021 Open Doors Report published by Institute of International Education, the following fields of study were among the most popular for international students*.

  • Engineering
  • Math and computer science
  • Business and management
  • Social sciences
  • Physical and life sciences
  • Fine and applied arts
  • Health professions
  • Communications and journalism
  • Education

*This data is for international students. Indian students constitute 18 percent of the international student population in the United States. 

What should students avoid when choosing a major?

Choosing a major is inevitably an important and often challenging decision. Following are a few potential obstacles to avoid when beginning your selection process: 

  • Not thinking long term and only considering salary or income
  • Succumbing to peer pressure or following the crowd
  • Letting somebody else influence you or choosing for you
  • Choosing without experience or research
  • Thinking only about the outcome and not the journey
  • Romanticizing the major

Whom should students consult about choosing their major, before entering a U.S. university and once they are in the United States?

You can begin the process of choosing a major with self-reflection or with the help of your mentors, school counselors, teachers and parents. Additionally, you can seek a professional who guides students on career choices by administering psychometric tests which measure your aptitude, interests and personality. It is very important to note that taking the test online on in-person is not sufficient, you must complete the process by getting guidance from a professional on the analysis and interpretation of the test results. Many students and families erroneously expect that a professional will simply list the top three career choices. Instead, it is realistic to expect that a professional might discuss your top career clusters and within those you will need to take the final call after further discussion and research.

Some other ways to know more about your interests and aptitude is to gain valuable experience by volunteering or pursuing internships. These give you a teaser into the real world of work and allow you to hone your skills and get an understanding of the operations of any business or service.

Making informed career decisions requires reliable information about opportunities in the future. It is also important to understand trends in careers and job markets. Many subjects have applicability in other areas. For example, if you look at the field of health sciences, one could become a doctor, a hospital manager, a health writer or journalist, data analyst, technology expert, health legal expert and so on. It is important to read about jobs and market trends to understand the future of work and jobs.

Here are some places to begin collecting information on majors, careers and job opportunities:

  • EducationUSA is the official source on U.S. higher education. EducationUSA advisors provide students information on the admissions and application process and can advise on majors and programs at U.S. universities.
  • Support services at U.S. universities such career services and international student offices.
  • School counselors, placement officers, career counselors who specialize in career counseling and guiding students in making college and career decisions.
  • Libraries and career guidance centers that house beneficial resources to aid college and job search.
  • University websites to understand course requirements and the classes you will have to take at college.
  • Networking with personal contacts and connecting with  someone who can answer your questions about specific careers and companies. 

What advice do you have for students beginning the process of selecting a major?

Choosing a major can be a harrowing experience since there are so many subjects to choose from. Naturally, students may be interested in several subjects and it may be difficult to commit to only one subject. It is important to keep in mind that students can always complement their major with choosing a minor field and taking a variety of electives on the topics of their interests to broaden their chosen field.

There are many resources that are available to students in the pre-departure stage and during their studies at a college or university. Students should take advantage of the various resources and advisers to help them navigate the process of electing a major.

Choosing a major can be a complex process for students but it shouldn’t be a stressful one. It is a great opportunity to explore, self-reflect and ultimately, to enjoy!

Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.



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