A College Major: Don't Be in a Rush to Pick One

With the economy in the toilet, more students think they need to major in something practical, which is one reason why business is the most popular college major.

Many students also believe they need to declare their college major before they ever step foot on their campuses. Actually, more and more universities are requiring that their students select a major before their first day as freshmen.

California Polytechnic State University in Luis Obispo is one of the more popular schools out here on the West Coast that requires all students to declare a major when applying. I have always thought that forcing 17 or 18-year-olds to decide, for instance, if they want to be mechanical engineers or electrical engineers was nut.

Could it be, however, that getting a head start on a university major is a good thing?

Not according to a new study conducted by Ofer Malamud, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago.  He looked at the career choices of college graduates who attended school in Great Britain and Scotland and made some fascinating discoveries.

In Great Britain, students need to select an academic major while still in high school. In contrast, Scottish undergrads take a broad variety of courses before specializing in their last two years.

Curiously enough, the British college graduates who had to pick majors as teenagers were less likely to hold jobs related to their fields of study. Scottish grads, however, who had more time to explore majors before settling on one, were more likely to end up at jobs related to their academic work.

Here’s what Inside Higher Ed observed about the findings:

The students at Scottish institutions seem more likely to have chosen to study fields that successfully aligned with their career interest, says Malamud, success that he attributes to the time and freedom they’re given to experiment with a broad range of fields, and to learn both what they like and what they’re good at.

With many state schools experiencing deep budget cuts, I’m afraid an increasing number of students are going to have to choose majors before they are ready.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also write a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.com.

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  1. Thank you for your insights. A student’s maturity upon entering the college experience is quite substantially different than after two years of attendance. It makes perfect sense for a student to learn about and explore all the options available to them before deciding on a major. The first two years are for growing and completing the general education that makes for well rounded curriculum. Taking the time to choose the right major can be invaluable to a student’s future.