Woman going to class

“How do I go about choosing a major or minor?”—Taylor V.*, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland and Labrador

*Name changed

Choosing a major can be a joyous occasion (Hey, I found my life’s calling!) or it can be anxiety-producing (What if I change my mind? What if I realize I don’t like it?) or somewhere in between. I remember alternately experiencing highs and lows after I decided to major in English literature. While I loved my classes and the work, I didn’t love answering the question “And what are you going to do with that?”

What intrigues you?

  • Another way to ask this is “What classes interest you?”
  • The answer to this question can help you determine what major may sustain your interest over the long haul of completing a degree. To figure this out, scan your university’s course descriptions in majors you’re considering.
  • Do the class descriptions excite you? Make you curious to learn more? Seem like fun or worthwhile?
  • Be sure to look at all levels of classes, not just the ones you are eligible to take.

What bores you?

  • Or you may ask yourself, what topics would be excruciating for you to study?
  • Finding what you don’t like is just as important as discovering what you do like. No offense to anyone reading this, but I would have never felt excited in a music or a math class. And while I do like the process of learning, the thought of cutting something open and observing it in a science class did not excite me as a college student. Scanning descriptions of courses can start you on the road to narrowing down your choices.

What’s your overall goal?

  • Do you want to step into an entry-level job after graduation, or do you want to go directly to a graduate program.
  • The answer to that question—even if you’re not 100 percent sure now—may affect your decision on a major. For example, if you’re eying a job as a speech pathologist after college, you may want to do a little research to determine what majors are most likely to get into speech pathology graduate programs. Or if you want to go to law school, do some research on the majors of the top law students. (Hint: It may not be political science.)
  • You can use the same research steps if you want to go straight into the workforce. There are some industries in which a specific major is required, and there are others in which there is no preference for a specific major.

What are the requirements for this major?

  • Once you determine a few possible majors (or maybe you have found THE ONE), talk to an advisor about the requirements for completing the major. Taking certain courses in a certain sequence may be required, but there may be others: Grade point average, internships, clinical work, or field requirements are just some of the “extras” that could be necessary for you to achieve before you can walk across the stage. Are you willing and able to complete those requirements?

Of course, after you’ve answered these questions—and done a little research—talk to everyone you can find. Ask advisors, career counselors, faculty, upper-class students, and employers about how they made their own decisions and what advice they would give you. You will find that choosing a major or minor that suits your interests and long-term plans is a little bit science (doing the research) and a little bit of an art (staying true to yourself).