Knowing how to choose a college major can be a huge source of anxiety. Maybe you have a gut feeling about what you want to study in college. Maybe your gut is telling you to start heading toward the ice cream because a panic attack is due any moment. Either way, you’re in the right place for some reassurance and perspective, along with some major advice. Let’s go over a few things.
Who are you?
This is the question of a lifetime, and the answer is harder to find than that back-up tub of ice cream you definitely did buy. You probably know yourself better than anyone else does, so why is it so hard to say who you are in words?
We’ve listed some less intimidating questions below, ones that might give you some footing on this rocky terrain of decision-making. Try answering these. You’ll put into words some big aspects of your personality and may learn more about yourself in the process. Who knows? Your response might become your major.
1. What’s your favorite subject?
You might be thinking, “This is why I’m undecided, you old bat!” But before you throw your spoon at the screen, try thinking about the answer. What do you like studying in high school? Chances are you’ll enjoy it in college too.
2. What’s your favorite way to pass time?
Joseph Campbell famously encouraged people to follow their bliss. What makes you happy? Is there anything you love to do? Drawing? Performing in a play? Playing video games? Throwing stuff at the wall? Be honest with yourself and make a list; you may be surprised at how many of these passions have corresponding majors.
3. What are you good at?
Everyone has strengths, and we really mean that. They might look different than other people’s, and they might be so natural to you that you don’t even realize you have them. Play to your strengths. You might be able to incorporate yours into a major you love.
4. What are your priorities?
Think about both your dreams and your non-negotiables. Do you want to make a difference in the world? Do you want to leave college with a solid career track? What do you want and what do you need?
If you really have no clue how to choose a college major, chances are you’re in one of two places: 1) you’re overwhelmed by how many programs are out there, or 2) you don’t really know what your options are.
Try exploring what majors are offered at the colleges you’re applying to (and if you have no clue what colleges to pick, don’t stress—we have some tips to help you narrow things down). All colleges have major lists, descriptions, and sometimes even tools to help you learn more about what you’re signing up for.
At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, our program explorer is an easy-to-use representation of all the majors we have. Here you can search for majors by your interests or view a comprehensive list of everything we offer. For each major, you’ll find a basic description of the program, estimated costs, career options, and more.
You are not alone.
If you think everyone else has their entire lives planned out and you’re the only one who doesn’t know how to choose a college major, think again. Most people second-guess what they want to eat for dinner, let alone what they want to spend four years studying.
While it may seem like college application season is the deadline for picking your major, many universities admit students who haven’t decided on a major yet, so you don’t have to pick one just for the heck of it.
Undecided at UIUC
One of the largest colleges here at UIUC is the Division of General Studies (DGS), where students who haven’t chosen a major yet can form their own academic community and receive personalized support from our DGS advisors on planning their college career. Remember, if you are undecided, you are not alone, and you have a place here.
You can change your major.
Unlike your name on that rock keychain your aunt got you at the gas station, your major isn’t set in stone. Over 50 percent of students, including students who were dead set on a particular program when beginning college, change their major at least once during their four years.
Colleges have some degree of flexibility built into their programs because they expect some students will join later or are juggling other commitments. This means you have some breathing room to try things out.
Some programs have more rigid timelines than others, but your advisor at college (and even high school) will be a good resource to plan out some realistic options.
Just remember that, in the end, you won’t be “stuck” with whatever major you try out.
Even after all this introspection, you might still be unsure (you might even be full-on freaking out), but many, many, many students are in your shoes right now. While it might seem stressful that so many people around you are confused, it means you are not alone. There’s always someone who can help you figure it out.
So go forth, self-reflect, and explore! You’ll get there in the end.