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Whether you’re a high school student planning for the next stage of your education or a seasoned professional looking to go back to school, there’s one all-important question you need to ask yourself: What should I major in? A college degree can make a tremendous difference in your earning potential and career opportunities, but you want your degree to open up the right opportunities for you.

So how can you know what you should major in? If you’re overwhelmed by choosing a major, you’re in good company—nearly two-thirds of students share this sentiment. But choosing a major doesn’t have to be overwhelming! Follow these steps to ensure you consider the most important factors and make an informed decision you feel confident about.

1. Consider your goals.

A helpful place to start is your motivation for getting a degree in the first place. What goal will your new degree help you accomplish? There are two main categories we can place these goals in:

You want to advance in your current career.

One great reason to enroll in a degree program is to gain the credentials necessary to get a promotion. For example, maybe you’ve had success in an entry-level position, but you need a bachelor’s degree to qualify for an associate-level position. Or you may enjoy the industry you’re working in but want to advance to a management position, where you would benefit from a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree or a Master of Science in Management (MSM).

You want to get started in a new career.

Another great reason to pursue a degree is to launch a new career. Maybe you’re entering the workforce for the first time and want to embark on a fulfilling and successful career. Or maybe you’ve been in the workforce for some time and are ready to make a career change. Either way, the right degree can help you qualify for your dream job. A 2019 survey found that just over half of students aren’t sure about their career path when they enroll in college (including adult learners). Although you can always change majors if needed, it’s best to make sure you have a clear idea of your career goals starting out so you can enjoy working in a field and position you’re passionate about.

2. Pursue your passion.

Speaking of passion, this is a crucial consideration when you’re trying to decide what career—and, in turn, what degree—is right for you. Take a moment to reflect on what matters to you on a personal level.

  • What are you motivated to spend your time on?
  • What topics do you love learning and talking about?
  • Is there a cause you care fervently about?

Your career isn’t the only way to pursue your passions in life, but some people want a career where they can live out their calling while earning a living. If you desire to serve a certain population or help people in a specific way, it could lead to a fulfilling vocation. For example, maybe a teaching degree is the perfect choice so you can make a difference in kids’ lives and help them realize their potential.

Working in a career you’re passionate about doesn’t just contribute to your happiness and job satisfaction. As one CEO of several national consulting companies points out, “college graduates who are engaged and happy in their work are the first to be promoted. As a result, they often make $25,000 to $50,000 more per year than their peers.” This principle won’t necessarily hold true for some vocations (such as religious ministry, for example), but for many positions, being passionate about what you do can help you rise up the ranks.

3. Assess your strengths.

A degree program will equip you with skills and knowledge you don’t currently have, so it’s fine if you’re starting from square one—especially if you’re enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program. That said, it may be smart to play to your strengths. Consider whether you already have a knack for skills and qualities such as:

  • Communication
  • Analytical reasoning
  • Leadership
  • Organization
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Patience
  • Problem-solving
  • Memorization

Now, ask yourself, what’s a degree program that will draw on those strengths? For example, if you’re a creative person who enjoys writing or other forms of communication, you may consider studying marketing. If you’re compassionate, great with people, and good at finding solutions to complex problems, you may consider a career in social work.

4. Run the numbers.

So far, you’ve looked inward to consider your goals, passions, and strengths. That’s a great start, but it’s also important to look outward. Broaden your focus to the job market to ensure you prepare for a career that’s in high demand and offers the earning potential you’re looking for.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great place to learn about possible career paths, including:

  • How many job openings are expected in the coming years.
  • What a typical salary looks like.
  • What level of education is usually required to enter the profession.
  • And more.

You want to feel confident that your major will help you enter or advance in a profession where your skills will be in high demand and you can earn a good salary. If you’re torn between more than one major, these practical considerations can be critical in helping you make your decision. Seeing which careers are in the highest demand or offer the highest salaries can also provide some ideas to consider if you’re unsure where to start.

5. Get some guidance.

Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for advice. Consider talking to these folks to get some insight into the best major for you:

  • Friends and family: People who know you and whose opinion you highly value can be a great source of guidance. If you’re unsure of your strengths or passions, you may want to ask others what characteristics they see shine through.
  • Mentors: Teachers, pastors, counselors, and other mentors can also be helpful. Consider talking through your considerations and seeing whether there are any angles you’re missing or whether they agree with your current plan.
  • College staff: Colleges have admissions counselors, academic advisors, and career coaches who can help you consider the different programs available, understand which programs you’re eligible for, and discover which would help you reach your academic and career goals.

Need some inspiration? Take our college major quiz!

Are you still asking yourself, what should I major in? If you’re unsure where to start, we have you covered with our academic program calculator. Just answer 10 questions, and we’ll let you know which online program you should consider based on your aptitudes, interests, and goals. Take the college major quiz!

If you think an HR career is a potential fit, consider how an undergraduate or graduate degree program can help you develop the knowledge and skills to work in this exciting business function.

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