4 Steps for Declaring a College Major

The hiring trends in the post 2007 financial crisis world is showing signs that when it comes to getting a job upon graduation, a student’s major matters.

Recent studies show students majoring in engineering, computer science, education and health care tend to have better hiring prospects in the anemic labor market.

Current students might be feeling the pressure to pick the right major as they watch former classmate struggle to find full-time work. The College Board reports that most students change majors at least once and many switch several times throughout their college career. However, experts warn that changing focus too many times can end up costing students extra time and money.

Finding a balance between genuine interest and the ability to build marketable skills within a particular major can ultimately shape grads’ career paths, says Kim Whiteside, manager of the Career Services Center at Bellevue University.

“The average student will invest 144 hours in class, over 2,000 hours studying, and $27,000 in income on his/her education,” she says. “Making the right academic decision is crucial to a student’s focal, financial, and emotional well-being—during school as well as after graduation.”

For students who have not yet declared a major, here are four factors experts suggest taking into consideration when preparing to declare an area of study for the upcoming semester.

Tip No. 1: Get On-Campus Support

Freshmen and sophomores looking for guidance should start by getting familiar with all on-campus resources available to students within the various schools.

Academic advisors can help students understand different qualifications and course requirements for degree programs they’re interested in, and many colleges offer a career services department for students to further explore careers and identify individual strengths, explains Rita Toliver-Roberts, vice president of Academic Advancement at Peirce College.

“The results of these assessments allow for conversations about major selection, professional/career plans, and opportunities for experience [that] can better inform the student to make better choices,” she says.

Tip No. 2: Find Balance Between Interest and Employability

While thinking about the likelihood of job prospects post-graduation is wise, the experts warn against deciding on a major solely based on current labor market conditions as it’s difficult to accurately predict future fluctuations.

“You can’t just major in engineering because they get jobs, but you do need to find majors where employability and your interest intersect and be realistic and honest with yourself about it,” says Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of Education Policy at McGraw-Hill Education.

Students should take the time to explore their passions through introductory courses, job shadowing and talking with professionals in the field, recommends Chuck Cohn, CEO of Varsity Tutors.

“What may have interested students in high school, may not interest them in college as they advance in the subject,” he says.

Tip No. 3: Reach Out to Current Industry Workers

Creating connections with alumni is a great way for students to get a more personal account of what their experience was like in completing the major and what is expected after graduation.

Livingston recommends consulting former students who have graduated in recent years to better understand the qualifications and skills needed to be successful in that field.

“If someone graduated in 2011 and 2012 in a major you are considering, talk to them and say, ‘I am considering going where you have gone—what advice would you offer?  What would you do differently? Are you happy that you majored in what you did?’” he says. “If that advice is [to] choose another major, they should think very hard about that.”

Tip No. 4: Think Outside the Box

Students who are less than enthused about the options for major choices in front of them can work with faculty members to create a customized major or major with accompanying minors, helping to incorporate different skill sets in a more unique package for future employers, suggests Livingston.

“Most universities offer the possibility, but very few students take advantage of it and it’s going to be the responsibility of that student to stand out when it comes to finding a job,” he says.

No matter what major they choose, students can plan for room in their required course schedule to take classes outside their major and explore other areas of interest, says Cohn.

“It not only enriches their college experience and broadens their knowledge, it may one day prove even more useful--it’s increasingly more common for people to change jobs, even careers multiple times,” he says. “With an ever-changing job market and technological advancements, and a little serendipity, a student’s passion or hobbies can one day turn into a fruitful profession.”