Like a big, foreboding storm cloud blotting out the summer sunshine, the question of how to pick a college major looms large over the heads of students and their parents. We see these questions ALL the time. How can I help my kid pick the right major for them? What major will make them happy, AND make them money?
Well first of all, let’s take a minute and address where your kid is at in the process. If your kid is in high school—maybe in their junior or senior year—and is about to start applying to colleges, that’s a whole different ball game than if they’re already packing up their room.
So if your kid is still in high school, what is the purpose of figuring out a major?
Picking a major at this point in the game will help your kid zero in on specific schools to apply to. Looking for top programs in Zoology? Not all schools offer that. Or even if your kid is looking at something more popular, say Engineering or Drama, some schools are better than others. As we are fond of saying here at Admissionado, the “best school for you” is the best school you can get into. But that being said, you definitely don’t want to spend four years at a school that doesn’t offer a great program in the field you want to study.
The other advantage to putting some thought into a major and doing all that research is that it will seriously help you on your applications. SO many schools ask you to describe why you want to attend THEIR school. The more specific you can be with your justifications, the better. So if you’ve been spending your high school career performing in the drama club productions and you won some awards for playwriting, and your plan is to study theatre and OH LOOK you just happen to be applying to Yale or NYU or Vassar…and LOOK you know so much about those programs because of all that research you did, you can name specific classes you plan to take and professors you hope to study with and campus groups you want to perform with and workshops that can help you improve your skills in X, Y, and Z areas…then you have made your application SO much stronger.
If, on the other hand, your kid is already college-bound, picking a major early can seriously help with course selection and long-term planning. College classes fill up quick, and it’s hard to secure those coveted spots, especially if you don’t have the required prerequisites. Knowing what you’re building towards can help you plan in a smart and efficient way…which will only help when it’s time to apply to jobs after college or apply to grad school.
So, how can YOU help your kid pick a major?
First of all, don’t pick it for them. Trust us, it never works. (Also, do NOT write their essays for them.)
Secondly, unless your kid genuinely knows they want to study something as specific as Zoology, it may not be super important to commit to a specific program early on, but rather to gravitate towards a particular AREA(s) of study. Sciences vs. Humanities. Arts vs. Social Sciences. Business vs. Political Science. Chances are, the courses they take in their freshman year—and the sheer volume of people and professors and information they’ll be exposed to during that time—will give them valuable information they need in order to discover what specific major is right for them.
In terms of the application, it may help to have an idea of what you’re building towards, academically and professionally, in order to answer that infamous “Why School X” question. But colleges know that many students change their minds and change their majors, and that’s okay.
The best way to help your kid right now is to chat with them about their interests and passions, talk broadly about ways to apply them to careers and fields of study, and check out college rankings and program websites—together or separately, whatever is more your speed—to get a feel for what’s out there. Take a relaxed, collaborative approach. A mix of smart planning and openness to change can go a long way.
And as always, let us know how we here at Admissionado can help.
By Emily Herzlin, Admissionado Senior Editor