How to Pick a College Major without Breaking the Bank

Barry Lenson

How to Pick a College MajorDiane Chambers, the pretentious character on the television series Cheers, once bragged that she was “only one credit away from getting a degree in any of 37 different disciplines.”

Well, that’s extreme. Yet I personally know one undergraduate student who has made short-lived commitments to major in English, Philosophy, and Anthropology. But I won’t poke fun at her, because picking a college major is actually pretty difficult. But there’s another problem about changing majors three or four times. With the cost of college courses running so high, it can cost a fortune to decide on a major, take some courses, and then change your mind.

So, how can you increase the chances of picking the right major the first time? Here are some strategies to apply . . .

  • Don’t try to learn about your major only by taking courses in it. Get out into the real world instead, and talk to people who are doing the kind of work that your potential major will lead to. If you are thinking of majoring in education, for example, talk to teachers. If you are thinking of nursing, talk to people who are working in that line of work. Ask them about the trends that are affecting their careers and incomes, and about what you need to learn to get a strong start.
  • Talk to companies or organizations that hire people who have pursued the major that you are thinking about. If you are thinking of training to become a medical biller and coder, for example, go talk to the personnel department at a local hospital. Or if you are thinking of majoring in business, go talk to the HR department at some large corporations and ask who they are hiring. Are they more likely to hire people who earn degrees in general business, in accounting, or in some other area of specialization? In most cases, you will find that hiring administrators will be happy to speak with you if you explain that you are a college student who could use some advice about picking your college major and deciding which courses to take.
  • Talk to the job placement or career office at your college or university. Ask about graduates who have been hired recently. What were their majors, for example? What were their particular strengths, and which courses did they take? The more answers you can get before you pick a major, the better the chances are that you will make the right choice.
  • Connect with graduates of your college who majored in the fields you are considering. Your college’s office of alumni affairs and giving should be able to put you in touch with some alums who will be glad to speak with you and offer you some advice.
  • Test the major you are considering by taking some online courses. If you are thinking of majoring in psychology, for example, take an introductory course in psychology online. If you are thinking of majoring in history, apply the same strategy. Taking lower cost online courses to test the waters – when they don’t count – is a great and cost-effective way to decide whether any college major is a good choice for you.

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