How do I Choose the Right College Major?

It’s no secret that choosing the right college major will be an important decision students make during their academic lives. And with tough economic times and enormous amounts of debt to deal with, students have never been more worried about which major to choose, and it seems like college-related pressure has never been greater. Though economic realities can be discouraging, student decisions regarding which major to choose usually should not be affected by economic conditions. What students will need to consider is what they are interested in, what field of study they would succeed in, and their debt situation. They should also remember that there will be many careers available to them regardless of their major.

STEM Majors and Professional Degrees

Many parents, counselors, and even professors insist that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors are the only ones that will lead to a specific career. This has led parents worried about their children’s future to strongly encourage them to pursue engineering degrees or professional degrees, which generally lead to the highest salaries. Indeed, students anxious about being able to find a job after graduation or regretting their college major decisions may be best off starting out in a STEM field or pursing a course of study eventually leading to a professional degree.

And though it’s true that STEM majors are certainly right for students who are genuinely interested in and devote themselves to their fields of study, many students who choose STEM college majors just for a higher salary are likely to be disappointed. A STEM major is a significant commitment. Computer science majors, for example, are likely to spend six years in college before they graduate because of the need to retake challenging math and science courses, according to Dice columnist Leslie Stevens-Huffman. This will only exacerbate debt issues, and those who aren’t generally interested in STEM topics unfortunately may be committed to careers they don’t enjoy because of debt that can only be paid off by pursuing jobs their majors lead to. Professional degrees usually require even more extreme time and debt commitments.

Major and Career Changes

College majors such as history might be unlikely to lead to specific careers following graduation, but history majors generally finish their college education more quickly and don’t have as much debt to pay off. They also aren’t tethered to a specific field, meaning that it’s okay if they decide to change jobs or even careers. New doctors and lawyers, who are often hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, often don’t have such liberties. What’s most important for college graduates is the career that follows graduation, and since most non-STEM majors all have access to the same jobs, what’s most important is that they choose a major they enjoy to maximize their academic performance and minimize time to graduation. All college graduates will get jobs eventually, and since only a minority of Americans have college degrees, you’ll have shown that you have the discipline and will to overcome challenges and pursue your goals.

Brian Burnsed of the U.S. News and World Report points out that the best way to choose the major you’re most interested in is to take a wide variety of courses to find the field of study that appeals most to you. By choosing a major you know you enjoy, you’ll be able to consistently perform at your academic best. If you become certain that you want a college major that’s appropriate for specific graduate school fields or a professional degree, however, you should discuss your decision regarding your major with a counselor.


It’s certainly true that STEM majors and those pursing professional degrees will be handsomely rewarded if they are interested in their fields and make an undying commitment to them. Students feeling an overwhelming amount of anxiety about their prospects and worried about regretting their decisions may also be best off majoring in a STEM field at first and giving it their all. But students should know that those who choose majors in non-STEM fields have access to careers too numerous to list here, and because they tend to be in less debt and have many options, they’re less likely to be committed to jobs or careers that they are unhappy with. This can have a tremendous impact on their quality of life. There are plenty of HR representatives, managers, public relations and marketing staff members, real estate agents and other professionals who are qualified for their jobs through experience rather than education. Most managers also say they value experience over all other qualifications.

Most students who want jobs outside of science or engineering should not be excessively concerned about whether their majors will lead to jobs. Rather, they should spend the first half of their education taking courses about a wide variety of different topics, then choose a major based on the classes they’re interested in to maximize their academic performance and enter the workforce with confidence.