Choosing a college major is one of the first important decisions young adults will make. For some, there is an early calling, a “knowing” of what you are destined to do in life. But for most students finding the right major can be overwhelming. This article is intended to give you some direction about the steps involved in choosing a college major.
This process is not intended to be the “right and only way” to choose a major, but it will give you some pointers to think about. I have summarized steps to consider in your journey. These steps will help to narrow your focus from hundreds of occupational choices to just a few possible majors to consider.
Before proceeding with these steps, I would like you to be mindful of a few things. The first is: There is no such thing as a guaranteed, single career match. Chances are you will have a few majors you will want to consider. The second is: this process does not hold you to a career that you have to stick to for the rest of your life. There are choices to make through each decade of your life.
As you move through this process, you will develop considerable knowledge about what fields are a “good fit.” This article will guide you through the steps to discover the most compatible majors to consider as you uncover your ideal career path.
Self-Assessment of Interests
Understanding oneself is essential to determining the right fit for a major and your future occupation. A meaningful occupation should match your strengths, interests, and your personality. Research has shown the best-fit careers blend interests in the daily tasks you are involved with and working in jobs that closely match your natural abilities. Jobs that are too challenging may be stressful, while jobs that are not challenging enough may be boring and unfulfilling.
As you begin this journey, you will discover what qualities make you unique. It would be helpful to get feedback from family members about the strengths they see in you and what activities you were drawn to as a child. Parents can be very helpful in offering suggestions, support, and encouragement.
To guide you through this process, I recommend working with a credentialed Career Counselor or Coach. Your Coach will select the most appropriate assessment tools for you, instruct you on completing each one, and interpret the results of your personalized reports. If you are enrolled in a college or vocational training program, take advantage of Career Services that are available to all enrolled students. If this option is available, you can complete these assessments ahead of time and share copies of the reports with your career coach.
One of the first assessments I recommend students complete is an Interest Inventory. The Interest Inventory is a powerful tool that measures “your interests.” The results are offered in a report that will help you to identify your interests in potential occupations.
You will be encouraged to complete a Personality Inventory to help understand your personality type. Your personality type will be matched with the job environments that would best suit your personality. Research on making vocational choices suggests “people who choose to study and work in an environment similar to their personality type are more likely to be successful and satisfied.” (Holland, J. L., 1997)
Skills and Abilities
The next step is to examine your skills and abilities. We all have strengths and skills that we have acquired through learning and life experiences such as family trips, community/volunteer experiences, and paid employment. Your coach will ask you a variety of questions to assist you in identifying your strengths and skills. You may also be asked to complete a skills inventory.
Another part of this process includes identifying your personal and work values. This involves completing values checklists. You might be asking, what are values? Your values are what you believe to be important for the way you live and work, and they help you determine your life priorities. Examples of personal values are belonging, dependability, family, being loved, honesty, and joy. Work-related values are things that are important to you about the work you will be doing. Examples are working independently, creativity, being fast-paced, or having a particular workplace environment that is compatible with your personal style.
Challenges & Obstacles
Everyone has strengths along with weaknesses and/or challenges. You can probably identify some of your challenges by reviewing your grades in certain subjects. These classes can be identified as areas that have little to no interest to you or are just too difficult for you. As you explore occupations, you will learn about the occupations of dissimilar interest to you.
This step in your journey is about exploring occupations identified in your career interest inventory report. As you explore selected occupations, consider how they match your interests, personality, and your values. Examine the work tasks required for those occupations. Do most of the tasks match up with your strengths and interests? If so, then you might be on the right track.
Choosing a Major
Your Career Coach will synthesize the information collected and assist you with understanding how all of the information fits together. Your task is to narrow your choices and select a potential major. Consider your top two to three choices as options based on the self-knowledge you have gained in this process. It is now time to make choices that you feel confident about.
You may want to bring members of your family into the process. Discuss your options and list the pros and cons of each option. Ask yourself, is my choice realistic? Do I need more information about the major I am considering? Then explore additional resources to help you gather more information about your final choice. There are a variety of resources to consider.
Goal Setting, Planning Your Future, Creating An Action Plan
Now that you are clear about your strengths and challenges and the college majors that are most suitable for you, it’s time to think about where you want to go. You can begin by defining your career aspirations. It will take some time to decide what you want to do. You will be guided through this process with the assistance of your coach. Questions to consider include:
- What do you want to accomplish with the major you have selected?
- Why is this accomplishment important to you?
- What is the degree you need? How many credits do you need to complete the degree?
- What type of training do you need?
- What experience do you need?
- Will you need to be certified or licensed?
- Is an apprenticeship required?
- When do you plan to get started?
- What skills do you need to improve?
- What support do you need?
- What schools are you considering
- What additional information and resources do you need?
Victoria Roche, MSW, PCC
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach