By Sean Nyhan
Your first visit to a college campus can be like walking on the moon. Everything is both foreign and familiar; you’re taking your first steps on a terrain that you’ve only seen from afar.
For months, family and friends have asked you about your “top schools.” You’ve browsed countless college websites, and now here you are—face-to-face with brick and mortar academia. It’s at this point you may start to hear new questions, often within your own head: small, liberal arts or big state school; bigtime football conference or urban art scene; business, art history, or both? In other words, once you step beyond those grey stones and steepled vistas, you’ll probably start thinking about the nuts and bolts of life after high school. You may even start to think about (gasp!) your college major.
On many applications, you are asked what you wish to study. You may not know what you want to do with the rest of your life, and that’s OK! But it’s time to think through some of your options.
When you were young, your family probably assigned you a bunch of jobs based on your tiny personality:
“She comforts her friends after losing a soccer game; she’s going to be a doctor!”
“He could read the Cheerios box at 4-years-old; he’s definitely an English major!”
And you’ve probably explored more than one career path since then—so don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers yet. You have plenty of time to figure out the future.
“Students need to know that once they get to college there will be an abundance of academic opportunities from which they can choose,” says Terry Knaus, a college counselor at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. “If they have a passion in a particular major and career, they should definitely pursue it and choose a college that offers that program.”
Yet it’s also important to be flexible, Knaus advises. Make a list of your interests, positioning your top priorities up high. But remember to make room for other options, should you change your mind later.
Angela Conley, manager of the EMERGE program for the Houston Independent School District, believes that early identification of interests and passions works for some students. Others, however, can get distracted by outside influences. “More often than not,” she says, “parents are more focused on these issues than any of the students with whom I’ve partnered.”
Parents and guardians can be great sources of inspiration, but that doesn’t mean they have to be the only sources. If you have even a spark of interest in a subject, seek out relevant opportunities that can expand your understanding. Join a club, compete in a fair (e.g., the National Science Fair), or participate in a summer business institute, journalism camp, or filmmaking class as a rising senior. Online tools can supplement your investigation into potential majors. The College Board has resources like BigFuture and CollegeView specifically designed for this purpose. And your school counselor can help you future refine your search.
“When I went to college as a freshman, I was interested in being a business major,” says Knaus. “After I took my first macroeconomics class, I quickly learned this was not what I wanted to do the rest of my life.” He ended up studying psychology and communication.
The bottom line: Thinking about your major while still in high school is a helpful exercise, but don’t feel the need to commit to anything. Just like after you visit a campus the first time, your worldview will probably change after your first semester.