5 Tips On Choosing a College Major

How do you choose a college major? I explored that question yesterday. If you missed it, here’s the link:
Stressing About College Majors

Today I want to share some five tips on selecting a college major:

1. Rethink a business major.

Business is the most popular major in the country, but don’t assume that you have to major in business to make money.  Every year PayScale ranks college degrees by pay and business is always in the middle of the pack in terms of salary. In other words, it’s overrated. Here are two posts that I wrote on best and worst-paying college degrees:
Top 20 Best-Paying College Degrees in 2010 (The 2011 stats won’t be released until later this summer.)

20 Worst-Paying College Degrees in 2010
Here’s another reason to skip business: these majors are the least likely to learn much in college. You can read what I and others wrote about this reality earlier this year in The New York Times.
Why Look Down on a Business Major?

2. Look for schools where you don’t need to declare a major.

I think it’s rotten that some schools, particularly state institutions, require students to declare their majors during the admission process. In my opinion, one of the worst offenders in my state is California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
Students applying to Cal Poly, which is a very popular school, must declare a major and some students have to get very specific about what they want to major in. Engineering majors, for instance, must declare in advance whether they want to major in civil, industrial, mechanical, electrical, architectural engineering or some other specialty. What 17- or 18-year-old will know that?
Once you’re in your major at this and other schools, it can be difficult switching into something else. I know a young woman who dreamed of becoming an architect at Cal Poly, but was rejected for this major. She selected mechanical engineering instead, but she tried repeatedly to get into Cal Poly’s architecture school once she was a student there. She even took architectural classes at a nearby community college as she waited in vain for an architecture opening.

3. Declare a major – if you must.

Getting into hot career-oriented majors like engineering can be difficult at some schools without declaring that major upfront. Consequently, it can be smart to apply to an engineering or business school even if you’re not sure if that’s what you want. If you decide to switch to a less popular major, say history or philosophy, you shouldn’t encounter obstacles.

4. Reconsider double majoring.

You don’t have to double major to find a job after college. That’s the opinion of Peter Johnson, the dean of admissions at Columbia University. He sees students at his Ivy League school kill themselves by double majoring. He says it’s absolutely not necessary. He insists that employers don’t care if you have a double major.
Here’s a thought: earning a minor while in college will be less arduous.

5. Ditch the double major for a master’s.

Getting a double major can delay a student’s graduation. You might need five years to double major rather than four for a single major. Here’s an idea:  you could use that extra year to get a master’s degree, which would be much more valuable.

Free College Workshops

Please join me…..I’ll be giving two college workshops at the University of California, San Diego, on July 16 and July 23 and I just learned  that the university is fine with opening them up to the public. The workshops are for teenagers who are participating in an academic camp at the university and their parents.
If you’d like to attend one or both free workshops – one  will focus on college finances and the other evaluating colleges academically – just send me an email – Lynn@TheCollegeSolution.com.  I’ll put you on the guest list and provide you with more details.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also blogs about college for CBSMoneyWatch and USNews.com.

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  1. Those are some great tips you have. Thanks for sharing them!
    I also think that going for a graduate degree instead of a double major makes more sense. A graduate degree will further your knowledge about a subject area – that’s why it’s called a Master’s program. It will make you more of an expert and that much more valuable for the industry you’re in. Needless to say, completing graduate degree programs will have a direct impact on your paycheck and employability. It’s definitely worth considering!

  2. I am having the toughest time trying to choose a major for college. I live in Ohio and am hoping to stay local. There are a few different colleges with multiple programs that I am interested in. My parents have recommended that I look into the pre-professional programs because it will lead me right into grad school and then into a career immediately after graduation. I know most Ohio colleges have multiple pre-professional programs like Walsh, http://www.walsh.edu/programs.htm , but I am not sure which one to focus on. I am worried that if I get into a major that it will be too late to switch to another if I don’t like it. I am not excited about spending the next 6 years of my life in college which is making this decision even harder. Is there a point when it is too late to pick a major? I am planning to attend my Freshman year without a major but just focus on the pre-requisites.
    Thanks for your blog post. It was very helpful for me.

  3. I’m not sure that I agree entirely with this post. I am an undeclared college student, and I have found it to actually be quite nice. Most people I know as a freshmen are already considering changing their majors so I think it is almost better to not declare unless you know what you want to do with your life.

    1. HI Jordan,
      I think you do have the right idea. Why stress about majors in high school when you are probably going to change your mind anyway when you start taking college classes and a whole new world opens up to you.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  4. Good post … as always, really.
    But I must, respectfully, disagree with your focus on the merit – or lack thereof – of a major in Business. I don’t think it’s so much the fault of the major, as it is the use a student makes of that major, that determines success.
    Of course, I can’t be completely objective on the topic, as I am married to an MBA who found an impressive list of offers – from a diverse array of potential employers – waiting for her when she graduated. It was due in part to her degree … but also in large part to her hard work, good grades and references.
    My own path to success took a little longer, and only came after I dusted-off my second major (English) and applied it to a new career in journalism (print, television and, later, web). As I said before, I believe it’s the use you make of it, that determines a major’s success.

  5. Hi, Lynn –
    I enjoyed your blog post, so good to hear an informed perspective on majors.
    I am a tutor for the College Application Essay (coincidentally, my website is called, CollegeEssaySolutions), as well as a professional writer and teacher. I have been expanding my business and am now working on a national basis. Would it be possible to exchange emails and discuss how we might help more students write effective essays? My email address is CraigH4158@aol.com.