Choosing a major

How to choose a major when I just don't know what I want to do

Academics Career

Choosing a major can be hard, and today’s world doesn’t make it any easier. It can feel as though you are expected to have well-developed passions while still in high school, as well as a clear idea of your life’s expected path. The fact is, though, we are always growing and changing. Physically, our brains don’t fully develop until around age 20, while personally, each of our experiences informs our preferences, hopes and dreams. 

Here’s the surprising reality: Your major choice might actually be less important than you think it is. It’s certainly not unimportant, but a college education a bachelor’s degree carries enough weight when it comes to your career journey. Paths like this are not necessarily linear; life is much more chaotic than that.

Our goal in the IDEA Center is to help you embrace that truth from the beginning, so that you can avoid the paralysis that comes when you don’t know which direction to go. Below, I discuss three big ideas that can help guide you toward settling into a major that is fulfilling and future-focused.

EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS

One of the great benefits of studying at a liberal arts university is your ability to take courses that allow you to dip your toes into a major with very little risk. You get the opportunity to explore various majors while you work toward meeting your general education requirements. Interested in intercultural studies? Try taking an introductory international affairs course. Curious about why people are the way they are? A general psychology course might be enlightening. And while you’re deciding whether to major in social work or psychology, you can take classes that can be applied to either course of study. 

The first step in determining your major is figuring out what you don’t like. Find a list of majors and cross off everything you already know you wouldn’t find fulfilling. Then, ask yourself a few questions: What things have you enjoyed in the past? What subjects were you good at in high school? What things are you often curious about? The answers to these questions are good starting points for your course selection in your first year of college. Even if a course you’re interested in isn’t a part of the general education requirements, it’s likely worth the risk as you explore your various potential major choices.  

Keep in mind, there are a few specialized majors that don’t allow much space for exploring. For these majors, core courses begin freshman year, so there’s not time to investigate before you dive straight in (think majors like engineering and nursing). For the most part, however, if you are a thoughtful explorer, you can take some time in that first year to explore your options and hone in on a good fit.
Explore Your Options

TRUST YOUR GUT

Imagine your future self, maybe five to seven years from now. What do you see yourself doing? The things we are drawn to are often what we do best. Our passions aren’t an accident. The problem is, having a singular passion or interest isn’t usually where we find ourselves.

As you drill down deeper into these feelings and thoughts, you might find that different majors and career paths require different sacrifices. If your goal is financial stability, that might come at the cost of having an entrepreneurial mindset. If you desire flexibility, you’ll likely lose stability. There’s nothing wrong with being caught between these realities, but it takes courage and honesty to create clarity. Knowing who you are and what you value most is critical!

As hard as they might be to acknowledge, feelings of doubt will inevitably wriggle their way into your mind. The most important thing you could do with these feelings is explore them. It’d be easy to think that everybody else knows what they’re doing, has a grasp on their passions and is excited about their future. It’s just not true! Doubt is a feeling almost every student will experience. Don’t be scared to have conversations. Good and scary feelings about your major are worth acknowledging, talking about and maybe acting on. There is always guidance available through mentors, advisors, professors and peers.

The reality is, this is just your undergraduate experience. After this, there is so much more to your career path. And it probably won’t be linear. Different jobs can span different careers. Many graduate programs don’t require a specialized major. There will be many times throughout your life to reassess your career and pursue changes if necessary. Along this path, listening to your feelings trusting your gut will make all the difference in giving you the confidence to keep moving forward.

Use Your Tools

USE YOUR TOOLS

The IDEA Center has a number of resources available to help you grow in self-awareness and find your calling. Our career and academic planning (CAP) coaches are here to provide guidance and advising. We help with, among other things, major and class advising, employment research, resume and interview skills, and securing internships.

To start the process of narrowing your major options, you might consider taking the one-credit course “Discover Your Calling.” In it, you’re exposed to several personality and interest assessments that might guide your thoughts around your major and career. These sorts of assessments are by no means a silver bullet, but can provide some great ideas to explore. 

Outside the IDEA Center are other tools to help you learn about career options and determine whether they’d be a good fit. Alumni can be a fantastic resource for both seeing how different career paths can look, as well as making connections with people in fields you’re interested in. Using LinkedIn, you can find George Fox alumni and filter by what they studied, where they work or where they live. Make that connection! Introduce yourself and ask if you can learn more about their academic and career journey. That alumni bond can certainly provide an opening, but most professionals alumni or not are happy to tell their stories.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Ask for informational interviews at companies you might be interested in. Make a point of finding about the day-to-day life of someone in a field you are considering. Try volunteering, different summer jobs, internships … These experiences add up to help you know more about what you want to do when you graduate.

Statistically, around 80 percent of college students change their major at least once. Ideally, students will have their major locked in by the end of their first year. Obviously, the sooner you can make a decision you are comfortable with, the less anxiety you might feel. Take some risks in that first year to really explore the big differences between majors! In the end, we believe you’ll find your fit.

Be curious. Ask a lot of questions. Be comfortable not knowing what to do. Be brave. Explore your options. Trust your gut. And use your tools.

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Kaitlyn Peitz

Author

Kaitlyn has worked in the IDEA Center at George Fox for five years, and is still dreaming about what her career could look like in five more. She got married last year, and has been working on becoming a culinary master in the kitchen. She loves traveling anywhere new (especially when it requires flying with a passport) and spends a lot of her time convincing her husband they don’t need a dog.

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