Helping Your Student Choose the Right Undergraduate Major

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By Lorena Roberts, Uloop

Choosing the right undergraduate major is a daunting task. Oftentimes, colleges want applicants to declare their intended major during the application process, which can be as early as an entire year before they’ll enroll. Though it is a possibility for your student to change his or her major, it can be stressful when changing between colleges (such as Arts and Sciences to Engineering, etc). When courses “count” for certain requirements, it can be tough to change your major and stay on track to graduate. It can be similar to transferring universities, where courses may or may not “count” towards your major requirements.

So while it’s important to choose a major that your student will want to stick with throughout their college career, just because they applied to the school of their dreams in Political Science doesn’t mean they can’t change to Interior Design later down the road.

If your college student is having trouble nailing down what they’re interested in, you might be able to guide them in the right direction. Here are some tips for helping your student choose the right undergraduate major:

1. What are they interested in?

Sometimes undergraduates get “hung up” on choosing a major that they think will allow them to make a big salary. For instance, if you survey any incoming freshman class, a large chunk of them will claim “pre-med.” And while this could very well be because they’re interested in science and medicine, I would venture to say a good majority of them are just doing it to ensure their salary will be plentiful in the future.

Encourage your student to explore their options depending on their interests. Sometimes an aptitude test can steer your student in the right direction. Looking into different career paths will help your student narrow down what’s important to them – being happy or making money.

2. Connect your student to alumni.

The more college graduates you can expose your student to — the better! Talking to multiple people who had various college experiences can shed some light on choosing a major for your undergraduate. It’s tough to weigh all of the facts. Especially when it comes to setting your life on the right track.

If you have friends or colleagues who would be interested in talking with your student — reach out! Give your undergraduate ample opportunities to consider many different career paths. Whether it’s business or architecture, give your student the opportunity to consider all of their options.

3. Look into employment rates.

While it’s important that your college student chooses a major that will make them happy – it’s also probably a good idea to consider which majors are more likely to find a job. If your student wants an art degree, make sure they understand how tough it might be to find a job after graduation. On the other hand, choosing to major in business might mean your student will have ample job opportunities, but they may not be happy.

Help your student look over which college majors are more likely to find jobs following graduation and have them consider this when it comes to choosing an undergraduate major. While this shouldn’t be the “end all, be all” of their decision, it should play a role.

4. Personality counts!

Has your student ever taken a Myers-Briggs personality test? If not, now might be a good time to sit down and talk it out. There are sixteen personality types, according to this test, which can help your student pin down a major that fits with their personality.

Students who are focused on logical answers to questions will probably be more successful in a major like mathematics or the sciences. While students who are socially driven with helping hearts may be more successful in a major like Social Work.

Urge your student to take a personality test if they haven’t before. It might help them answer some questions about themselves before they are pressured into choosing a major.

5. Return on investment

Because we’re in an age where college students are taking out ample student loans in order to get through their Bachelor’s degree, it’s important that you and your student have a conversation about how much money you’ll be paying for their undergraduate degree versus the salary they’re likely to end up with once they get a job.

So many of my friends have taken out $50-75K in student loans, just to receive a Bachelor’s degree in a field that requires an advanced degree. Their investment in their undergraduate education has been enormous- but instead of being ready to accept a well-paying job, they’re now attending graduate school to even consider getting hired.

Talk with your student about their plans after graduation. Would they like to have an advanced/professional degree? Are they choosing a major that will require them to earn an advanced degree before they have a shot at being hired?

It’s stressful to have a college student — especially when it comes to helping them choose the major that suits them. There are ways you can help, as a parent, to ensure they’re on the right track. However, you cannot choose their major for them. Ultimately, it’s their decision. And trust me, if you want them to come home with decent grades, it’s best to let them choose their own classes/major.

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