Choosing a major is an important decision, but not one that you should lose sleep over. Keep these principles in mind, and keep your peace of mind as you consider your choices.
1. Explore wisely
It’s perfectly fine — and increasingly common — for college students to spend time exploring before they decide on a major, but knowing how to explore effectively is critical. Don’t rely on coursework alone to tell you about what a major is all about. While it can be useful to try out courses that you think may interest you, the first step in learning about a major should be talking with people who know something about it. Find students who have declared that major and ask them why they have made the choice, and what they enjoy (or don’t enjoy) about it. Does anything they say resonate with you? You should also meet with your advisor and faculty in the major to discuss your interests, and what kinds of professional or graduate school opportunities may align with the particular major.
2. Relax; you’re not planning the rest of your life
Picking a major helps you focus your academic track, but it does not determine the rest of your life. Depending on your professional interests, your volunteer or work experience may be far more important than your college major to prospective employers. Even medical schools do not require you to have a particular major. It’s also important to remember that any major can lead to career success. Ted Turner majored in classics, Carly Fiorina in medieval history and philosophy, J.K. Rowling in French and classics, and Conan O’Brien in history and American literature.
3. Stay flexible
Choosing a major is not a permanent decision. You can change your major, double major, add a minor, or do internships or research projects in fields outside of your major to diversify your skills and knowledge. (Of course, changing your major can have an impact on how long it takes you to graduate, so be sure to talk with an advisor if you are considering it.) Each college at Northwestern has its own requirements and procedures for declaring and changing majors, so you should work with your advisor and be sure you understand the process.
4. Follow your passions
Your parents, uncle, or next-door neighbor might have their own ideas about what major and career you should choose, but if it’s not a field that genuinely interests you, chances are you won’t be happy in it. Keep in mind, too, that -- while there is evidence that certain majors can lead to jobs that have higher incomes, earning potential isn’t the most important factor in choosing a major and career. Provided you are meeting your basic needs, life satisfaction is not determined by how much money you make. Study what you love!
Other resources on majors and professional planning:
Professional development information, including medical school, law school, business school, graduate school, and more