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Choosing a Program or Major

You won't need to officially declare a program or major until you're in college. But there are advantages to choosing a course of study in high school, even if you're not planning on going to college. You can figure out your classes ahead of time and take the necessary prerequisites (classes you need to take before you take a more advanced course, like taking Biology I before Biology II). This can make the difference between graduating on time and spending more years (and more money) in college.

So how do you choose a course of study? After you think about your interests and research careers, consider these points.

You don't necessarily need to pick your area of study based on a career choice. Students in law or medical school don't need to have majored in pre-law or pre-med. A philosophy major can end up as a researcher and a science major may end up in the theater. The important thing to ask is: Will this major teach me the skills I'll need later in life? While employers do look at your college major, they also consider other, sometimes more important, traits like your:

  • Experience.
  • Ability to reason.
  • Communication skills.
  • Adaptability.
  • Commitment.
  • Reliability.
  • Worldly knowledge.

So, philosophy majors can become politicians, history majors might become writers and journalism majors may go on to law school.​​​​​​

  • You may choose more than one major. Sometimes called a double major, choosing two majors may increase the amount of time you spend in college (but not necessarily), but it doubles your skills and makes you more marketable as an employee.
  • You can enter college without choosing a major. It might be called an undecided major, an undeclared major, an exploratory major or some other classification by your college, but what it really means is you're still looking around, deciding who you are and what you want to be. You will need to eventually declare your major though.
  • Majors don't need to be set in stone. If, after you take a few classes in your major, you decide it's not right for you, you can change. Colleges have staff who can help you choose another major that may even use some of the classes you've already taken.
  • Do some research before you go to college.
    • Print out a list or two of college majors; then cross out everything you know you're not interested in. Does what's left give you any ideas?
    • Talk to students and faculty in a particular major to find out what the course work is really like.
    • Read journals or publications for students of that major or careers related to that course of study.
    • Ask a local college or university if they have an information session available you could sit in on.

Steps to Choosing a Program or Major

Going through the following steps can give you a clear idea of the type of major that makes sense for you.

Step 1: Assess Yourself. Ask yourself what your interests, skills and values are. What makes you happy? What have you done before that you really enjoyed? What accomplishments make you most proud? MyACT has several surveys and assessments that can point you to a major or career.

Step 2: Make the connection. Once you have a good idea of your interests, skills and values, find out which majors, and careers, will help you pursue them.

Step 3: Narrow your list. Choose a few of the most likely possibilities and talk to people who know about those majors. Talk to professors, older students and graduates. Find a list of required courses for each major and check off the ones you think you would enjoy or do well in. Find out what projects, internships and research are required.

Step 4: Do more research. Find someone who works every day in that field. Ask them questions and get information about the profession. Find out what their life is like, and ask for advice on how you could be successful. They might also be able to help you find jobs or internships so you can decide whether you might like that job.

Step 5: Try it out. Take some classes in the topic area. Maybe there's an intro class that will cover the scope of the major. Try a summer or part-time job to give you a taste for the career, or follow a professional around for a while. 


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