Updated on October 12th, 2018
When it’s time to choose a major, many teens are at a loss for words. The idea of selecting a subject that will define their future is anxiety-inducing to say the least, and can leave some students paralyzed. In some cases, your child might not have a clue as to what they want to select while others may be torn between two (or more) fields of study.
But, having a difficult time when they have to choose a major isn’t the end of the world.
In fact, it’s actually pretty normal to find the decision hard.
Luckily, there are ways to help your child narrow down what they want to do, regardless of whether they are in high school or have already started college.
To help them along this journey, here are some tips for making the process of easier when they need to choose a major.
High School Activities to Help Them Choose a Major
Often, high school juniors and seniors actually have some opportunities that can allow them to explore possible majors before they commit to a particular program (or even a specific school).
Here are some of the things they can do to make it easier to choose a major.
Use Electives to Make It Easier to Choose a Major
Most high schools still allow students to choose their electives or select from multiple classes to satisfy a single requirement. That means they could try classes that fit their interests or could apply to a particular college major.
If your child wants to see if an engineering major is the right choice for them, then they may benefit more from a physics class than biology. After taking a physics course and enjoying it, they might be able to choose engineering with confidence when they have to choose a major. And, if they don’t like it, then they know it is better to move on to other opportunities.
True electives can also be enlightening when your child has to choose a major. Students considering a career in certain design fields, even if they are technical in nature, might learn a lot about whether their potential career is a right choice by taking various art classes. If they’re considering a career in software design, then computer electives (especially those that teach programming) can be a safe introduction into the field.
When your child has the power to pick a class, encourage them to select a class that can help them choose a major because the more they learn about their likes and dislikes now, the easier it will be.
Lastly, some high schools are beginning certificate programs where students can focus on a major while in high school to test it out. This is something worth discussing with your child’s school.
Many colleges and universities will allow others to sit in on classes, a process known as auditing, to help them see what the course is like. Typically, people can attend for free, but won’t receive any credit for being in the class.
If your child can’t settle on a major, see if a nearby school will let them audit a class that takes place outside of your student’s high school schedule. This not only shows them what is required to begin pursuing a particular career but also gives them valuable insight into the college experience.
Another option for checking out possible majors is to shadow professionals working in various fields. This allows your child to see what it is like to work in certain jobs or industries, and may make it easier to decide whether a particular major is the right move.
Finding a job shadowing opportunity does take some legwork, as they may need to contact businesses to see if such an arrangement can be achieved. However, the learning experience can be incredibly eye-opening, so it is worth putting in the effort.
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They Can Choose a Major of Undeclared
Lastly, understand is that they can choose a major that lists them as “undeclared.” This just means your child knows they want to get a degree, but they haven’t completely narrowed down exactly what they want to study.
For example, the University of California, Davis, offers six courses of study with an undeclared major. These options focus on larger categories, like life sciences or fine arts, and allow students to begin the foundation of their education (often their first year) while exploring different opportunities within each larger field.
As your child continues their coursework, they may find a specialty that speaks to them. When that happens, they can simply choose a major from there and adjust their graduation plan accordingly.
While this approach isn’t necessary for many students, understanding that it is an option your child can exercise may take some pressure off. And that, by itself, can help them move forward.
The Challenge of Choosing Undeclared with Scholarships
One challenge with choosing “undeclared” as a major is with scholarships. Often, scholarship committees want to see that students have an idea of what they want to do. While we all know many students change their minds once they get to college, it is still best to try to pick one career path that they can talk about in their applications. Again, committees understand it can change! Still, it’s better to choose something and own it for the time being than to simply state they are unsure.
If you and your child need some help finding scholarships to apply to, join me for my next free online training, 6 Steps to Quickly Secures Scholarships for College (and Avoid Student Loan Debt). Click here or go to https://thescholarshipsystem.com/freewebinar.
What College Students Can Do
Some students enter college still questioning their major. Whether they enroll as undeclared or choose a major without being certain, there are still things they can do.
One thing your child should keep in mind is, even when you do choose a major, that decision doesn’t have to be forever. If your student selects a field and becomes unhappy with their decision, they can change their major!
If your child isn’t fully settled on a subject, encourage them to select a major that broadly meets their needs. For example, many students know if they prefer science over history, math, and English. If so, have them choose a science-oriented major and institute an exploratory approach when they start classes. Choosing a general ‘college’ within the university and sticking to it will help avoid them losing credits as the requirements should be similar between majors within one specific college.
An Exploratory Approach to Their Freshman Year
Often, college graduation plans have some level of flexibility. Sure, there are mandatory classes, but there are also electives and the option to choose from a list of courses that meet degree requirements.
If your child isn’t sure about their major, encourage them to take advantage of their freshman year by doing some exploring. Recommend they select at least a couple of classes specific to their major, but to branch out into other areas of interest that can still help them get their degree.
Many students focus on the general educational requirements (like English, math, and history) of their program during their freshman year. While getting these handled is a great idea, they shouldn’t clog up their entire schedule with these if they don’t have their major figured out just yet.
See if your child can figure out a mix of general education classes, major specific courses, and opportunities to explore other topics of interest. That way, they can make solid forward progress while still having the flexibility to choose a major that better suits them if their original selection turns out to be a poor match.
Don’t Be Afraid of Changing Majors
Did you know that some schools offer a staggering 250+ majors? With so many options, it’s no wonder that choosing a major is a challenge.
Then, once a major is selected, approximately 50 to 70 percent of them will change their mind and end up pursuing another degree plan. Some college students even change their major multiple times along the way.
With that many students deciding to change directions, it’s apparent that shifting the original plan is common and doesn’t indicate a larger problem; it just shows how much learning and growing young people do during their late teens and early 20s.
High schoolers and college students are still discovering a lot about who they are and who they want to be, so what they originally thought was right for them might not fit the bill over the long-term.
If your child is considering changing their major, neither you nor they should be afraid to make that decision. It is always better to correct the course and choose a major that will make them happier throughout their career than stick with something that leaves them dissatisfied.
In the end, the goal is for your child to live a happy and productive life and, if taking some extra time to get their major right is part of that journey, that’s perfectly okay.
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