Picking Your Major and Your Career and the Rest of Your Life

By Taylor Gaines

So you’ve gotta pick a major. Yeesh. Even typing the phrase “pick a major” freaks me out a little bit. I just graduated college, and I’m still pretty intimidated by the prospect of having to pick a major. It’s a scary feeling, like you’re setting yourself on an eternal path to one very specific thing that you might not want to do in three days, let alone three years. It’s odd being asked to make a major life decision (pun intended) at such a young age.

Even now, I feel like I’m in a similar situation. (Replace the word “major” with “career” and you’ve got it.) I just got done with school, and I’m looking around for my first job. What if I take the wrong position? What if I wind up going down the wrong path and never being able to turn back? Will I be trapped in an industry with no upward mobility doing something I don’t like?

I know this probably sounds over-reactionary and extreme to think this way, but I think if you’re struggling with any kind of similar decision, you understand the feeling. Whether you’re trying to pick a career or a major, it’s hard not to think this way. With every possibility in front of you, you’re more afraid of regretting the ones you leave behind.

Career Race

I always think about something my mom said to me when I was in high school. I was thinking about what my college major would be so that I could decide which university would be best for me so that I could decide what career I wanted to do so that I could decide what my legacy in the world would wind up being. Stuff like that. Choosing one seemed impossible. I remember asking my mom how I was possibly supposed to know the answers to any of these questions already.

“Look,” she said, “I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.”

Wait a second, I thought. You’re a real-life, full-grown adult. Isn’t it literally impossible for you to still not know? It didn’t make any sense to me.

But now, I think, I’m starting to get it. These decisions are overrated. The importance of choosing a major is blown way out of proportion. If you’re going to college, you probably have a lot of really marketable skills. Your mind is flexible; it can be applied to do all kinds of important and fulfilling work.

Take me, for instance. I am still not 100 percent sure what I want to do. I know I love stories. I know I love talking to people. I know how to read. I know how to write. I’m a good communicator. I’ll figure it out.

All that being said, you still have to declare a major at some point in your college career. So let me say this.

Pick something you enjoy. You’ll have a bit of time to look around, take some different classes, and figure out what you’ll be best at and what you might be able to make a career doing. In some cases, you don’t even need to completely settle on your major until two years into college. Sure, there are some exceptions — namely medical school, engineering, physical therapy, and nursing — that might require you to make your decision a bit sooner. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick something you enjoy doing.

Don’t let other people decide for you what you’re going to do with your life. If you have good reason for doing something, and you think you have a real shot at doing it, then you should go for it. If you’re thinking about what other people will think, the job market, or how much money you will make when you graduate, you’re thinking about your decision in the wrong way. Imagine getting stuck doing something you hate just so you can make money. Does that sound appealing to you? I don’t know, maybe it does. That’s fine. But as much as I may sound like an immature, naïve millennial in saying this, I think you should find something you enjoy doing and worry about how much money it’s going to make you later.

Student 01

And hey, if you’re really struggling to decide on anything, try making yourself a classic pros and cons list or talking to friends, family, or professionals about it. Laying out your thinking on paper or verbalizing your thoughts and asking questions can really help you figure out where you stand.

Or, if you’re struggling to decide and you’re really worried about picking a major, stop it. You know why? Because it doesn’t matter as much as you might think. To quote The Princeton Review, “the major you choose will neither predict nor guarantee your future.” Many people wind up working in career fields that have nothing to do with what they studied in college. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average twenty-something switches jobs once every three years. On top of that, the average person will change their career field completely two to three times in their lifetime.

So don’t fear. It’s a tough decision, and it’s not unimportant, but it’s not the last one you’ll ever make, either. Life is a long journey, and you’re just getting started.

TLDR: don’t worry; be happy.

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