How to Help Your Student Choose a College Major

June 27, 2022

Choosing which college or university to attend is an important decision for any student. The pressure to choose the "right" institution can be overwhelming, with outside pressure coming from friends, family, educators and more.

Add on the complexity of choosing their starting major, and you can see how this may seem like a daunting task.

Ultimately, the decision is up to your student to decide what college and major is right for them. But as a parent or guardian, you can use your own experience and insight to help them weigh their options.

In this guide, we are sharing five tips to help your student choose a college major based on their interests and career goals.

1. Encourage your student to think about their major before applying to colleges

First, putting some thought into your student's prospective major early on can help them narrow down the list of schools they want to apply to based on their preferred program. In fact, some institutions are known for certain departments, so your student can begin applying to schools that best support their goals.

Second, thinking about their preferred major early can help them develop a better academic profile prior to applying to schools. They can tailor their high school classes and extracurriculars so they are better prepared for that major.

For example, a prospective art major may want to take an AP art class or join the drawing club, and a computer science major may choose to take on a computer science elective. The sooner they start thinking about their major, the more time they have to build their academic profile and strengthen their application.

2. Hone in on their favorite classes and academic subjects

One of the best points of reference for what your student may want to study in college is which classes they've enjoyed most in high school. College is an academic environment, so if they want to pursue a particular major, it should ideally be one where they will enjoy most of their classes.

For example, your student may feel pulled toward the arts, like music, studio art, or theatre classes. Or they might enjoy STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses more, like calculus, biology, or computer science. Encourage them to think about which classes they have enjoyed the most and which subjects they'd like to learn more about.

Now, there will be many college majors that exist which may not have a close high school class equivalent. For example, anthropology, geology, linguistics, biomedical engineering, and other types of fields may not be represented at your student's high school. So, they will still want to keep their eyes open to the possibilities.

3. Encourage your student to shadow professionals in diverse fields

College is often a stepping stone to a student's future career. With that in mind, shadowing someone who is actually doing the work now can be more inspiring (and/or realistic) than thinking abstractly about a college major. This could be a friend, family member, colleague or someone else in your network.

On the one hand, your student may shadow someone in their desired field and feel even more motivated to pursue that major. On the other hand, they may realize that the reality of the career is very different from what they idealized in their mind.

For example, shadowing a graphic designer who has the freedom to be creative and set their own hours might encourage your student to become an art major. Whereas shadowing a psychologist may help your student realize there is much more science and research involved in a psychology major than they anticipated.

4. Set up time with a college admissions counselor

College admissions counselors are familiar with the ins and outs of most majors at an institution and can provide realistic details about what's involved in each major. They can provide an overview of required courses, available electives, the admissions process, the career trajectory and much more.

Meeting with a college counselor can be helpful in preparing your student for their prospective academic track. For instance, some programs have more rigorous requirements to be admitted to the major. Your student may need to take certain courses or achieve a high GPA.

5. Know that not declaring a major right away is okay

College is a time for discovery. Many students want to explore their horizons and experience the various courses college has to offer. This gives them some time to figure out what they love and choose the right major later in their college career.

If your student has no idea what they want to major in, encourage them to stay curious and try different electives.

At Bucknell, we offer a range of co-curricular opportunities like internships, capstone courses and more, so students have more chances to discover what they want to do. Then students can formally declare their major near the end of their first or second year when they have more experience (and courses) under their belt.

One main reason: AP exams are often taken in conjunction with an AP course at a high school. Students in an AP class know that if they do well on the AP exam, they might qualify for college credit. SAT Subject Tests, in contrast, were not connected to a class and often did not earn college credit.

Encourage your student to make the right choice for them

We know you want your student to be happy, fulfilled and successful. There is no single "best" path to reach this goal; many majors will set your student up for success. With that in mind, there shouldn't be too much pressure to choose the "right" major right away.

In fact, 80% of students change their major over the course of their college career. This is completely normal. So, choosing a major now doesn't mean it's set in stone. Your student might discover new interests along the way.

At Bucknell, we encourage exploration in an academically rigorous environment. Students can try different courses and get a chance to uncover their unique interests. This passion can be the fuel to your student having a successful career.

Does your student need more guidance for choosing their major? Check out these resources:

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