Six mistakes to avoid when choosing your major for college

Do I choose Economics because it is so competitive and therefore it msut be worth it? Or do I choose Media Studies because I loooove expressing myself on blogs and social media posts? Or is Computer Science the order of the day?

The college major you choose impacts not only your college performance, but also your prospects and earning potential for your first job—and even your options for your postgrad degree. Here are six mistakes to avoid when choosing a college major.

Expecting to choose via college foundation year explorations

Liberal Arts education in India offers the promise of exploring more than one major in your first year and choosing your specialisation only in the second year. However, this demands a careful selection of the pre-requisites for each major in your first and second year. For courses like Economics and Computer Science, your performance in these pre-requisite courses in the first year may also matter – making it important for you to have shortlisted at least 2-3 options when you join college, so that you choose relevant courses to explore these during your foundation year.

Not doing enough research on long-term career prospects

Imagine a high school art enthusiast who decides on a journalism major career without researching its long-term prospects. After college, she enjoys working as a news reporter but later realizes successful reporters and TV anchors often take 10-15 years to establish themselves and get compensated at top industry levels.

Had she researched more, she’d have known about the competitive nature of the media industry and income variability among professionals, potentially making better-informed choices for her future. Talking to professionals in your chosen field, shadowing them and doing internships gives you a view of the work environment and earning prospects of an industry, helping you align your major with your long-term career goals.

Ignoring your interests and passions

Have you ever wondered why there’s a long line for one specialist doctor in a hospital while another specialist in the same hospital isn’t in high demand? Not every doctor is highly successful and not every artist is starving in attics. Success often depends on your ability to go beyond the call of duty and do extraordinary work in your field – and it is always easier to do this when you love the work you do on a daily basis.

Choosing a major solely based on expected job prospects or family expectations, rather than your own interests and passions, can lead to dissatisfaction and burnout. While it is crucial to consider future employability, it is equally important to select a major that genuinely excites you and aligns with your interests.

Overlooking soft/generic/transferable skills

Will studying computer science make me a great tech entrepreneur? Or do I need the ability to make a vision, lead a team, communicate with others under tough situations, and handle failure too?

No matter your major, investing in critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork can significantly enhance your employability. So look beyond your major into minor courses, workshops and clubs that can help you test and build these skills.

Sticking with your first decision

As a tech-loving high schooler, you may quickly pick computer science in college to save time and money. After a few semesters of coding difficulties, you realise that you are bursting with artistic creativity and wish you’d chosen game development or interaction design instead. Most universities will offer transition paths into related and often unrealated fields, too, and so it is best to explore more than one option during your foundation year.

It helps to be open to change in your first two years in college. Take the time to explore your options, talk to advisors and counselors, seek advice from senior students and consider your academic strengths and weaknesses before opting for and committing to a major.

Neglecting internships and experiential learning during college

As a high school student aspiring to be a wildlife biologist due to your love for animals and the environment, you choose a biology major in college. Unfortunately, you focus solely on classroom studies, neglecting internships and hands-on wildlife research. After graduation, you face difficulties securing wildlife biologist positions due to job listings requiring practical field experience. Your lack of relevant internships puts you at a disadvantage compared to candidates with practical skills.

Hands-on experience in your field during college greatly influences your job prospects. Theory-based coursework is essential, but it is equally important to gain practical experience in your chosen field through internships, co-op programs, or part-time jobs. Take into consideration the internship opportunities that the major/course offers. 

If you are In Grade 12 or in first year in college, our advice is to be exploratory but not clueless, open to new possibilities but thorough in your research, aligned with your interests, as well as future job opportunities. And most importantly, look beyond your major to build interdisciplinary and transferable skills that are relevant in a fast-changing career landscape!

The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm.

The original article was first published in ‘The Hindu’ on October 14th, 2023.

With inputs from Anjana Anand, Principal Counsellor at Inomi Learning.