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Ten Mistakes in Picking a Major

For many students, picking a major is the biggest academic decision they will make in college. Here are some common errors students make and tips for success.

1. Picking a major too early

Many students feel under pressure to declare a major before starting college or early in the first year. If interested in an academic area, students should take intro classes in that discipline. They also should take foundational core courses to explore options.

2. Picking a major before considering all the choices

Not sure what a major is...find out. Students are encouraged to stop by a departmental office, do a web search and visit the Career Center for more information.

3. Picking a major before taking at least two advanced courses in the field

Students may be tempted to pick a major on the basis of an intro course or two. It is important to sample upper-level courses, too. In many fields, the work at that level is more challenging and sometimes different in approach, methodology and complexity than intro courses.

4. Picking a major in something that is a struggle

As surprising as it might seem, some students choose majors in fields they are not doing well in or for which they do not have the skills. Students should pick a major in a field they are getting more A's than C's.

5. Picking a major in something not liked

Given that a student is going to have to take 10-12 courses in a particular major, it makes sense to pick something that is enjoyable. Students should pick a major that reflects their interests and true passions. They should not pick one to please someone else.

6. Picking a major because of being enthralled by a professor

A major is going to require students to study with more than one professor, so take classes with a few professors. Talk with them and learn more about the discipline.

7. Picking a major only because of its career prospects

Some students might pick a major that is lucrative now or is projected to be in 5-10 years. That should not be the sole factor. Many career fields do not require a particular major. They require skills in writing, communication, math, foreign language and analytical thinking – skills that can be acquired through several majors.

8. Picking the wrong major for a career interest

A student interested in teaching at the collegiate level may unwittingly major in education (intended for K-8 teachers). Students can benefit from talking with an academic or career center advisor about matching a major to a career.

9. Piling on majors

Do not think more is better. There can be disadvantages to having multiple majors and minors.

10. Obsessing every waking hour about what major to pick

A major does not dictate a person's future. The U.S. Department of Labor statistics indicate the average American worker changes careers multiple times during a lifetime.

This article is adapted from U.S. News & World Report "Professors' Guide" by L. Jacobs & J. Hyman.