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Nzinga Young Headshot

What to Consider When You're Considering: The High School Senior's Guide to Choosing a Major

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Second semester of my senior year of high school was a premature celebration of high school's finale. It was probably the most present I'd ever been, but my social calendar left no room for me to brainstorm how I would tackle the university ahead of me. My high school didn't have differentiated courses of study, and since I wasn't used to having a choice of classes based on my interests, I didn't take the time to decide what my interests were. I left for college with one painfully specific life goal: help people. Five semesters and four major-changes later, I settled with psychology.

Fortunately, I still managed to graduate from college on time, but many of my counterparts who put themselves in similar situations weren't so lucky. My college roommate was also delayed in declaring a major and ended up having to stay in school an extra three semesters to get her degree in education. Another friend stayed an extra year after finally admitting to herself that her passion lied in neuroscience. According to the New York Times, nearly "half of the students who begin college at a two- or four-year institution fail to earn a degree within six years."

It's wasted time for you and wasted money for your parents to overstay your welcome. My work helps young people transitioning from high school to college prepare for the change of environment, and one of the main things we do is create a plan for how to have a fulfilling academic career in four years or less. Being unsure of your major is understandable, but making no effort to find out is unacceptable. Here are a few questions I ask undecided high school seniors that help them start to sort things out before matriculation.

What do others say you do well?

You can brush it off the first time, but when you hear from multiple people on different occasions that you have a knack for X or would be great at Y, it might be time to explore that end of the alphabet. When I work with students, I like to adjust the perspective and have them think from a different point of view. More often than not, the person making the suggestion isn't wasting her breath on an empty complement. Others are able to recognize gifts we may ignore, suppress, or doubt. Instead of thinking about why you wouldn't pursue a suggested field of study, think of what could go right by taking the plunge.

Where have you been successful in the past?
It's healthy to dig up evidence of past successes. Be they big or small, reminiscing on things you've accomplished is an enjoyable practice than can give you the confidence to pursue loftier ambitions. Sometimes students have trouble determining a major because they are afraid of failure, but reminding yourself that you have gotten through worse could be just what you need to make a commitment. No matter how many you remember, it's still nice to pose the question to friends and family. They may remember a hidden gem that you forgot, or didn't recognize as an accomplishment.

Who should you speak to about majors you are considering?
We often forget about our vast social network. Not only do you have access to friends, family, acquaintances, and professionals in your life, but with an internet connection and a little creativity, you can access almost anyone in the world. If you have an interest in a particular major, find someone who is an expert in it and treat them to coffee. It can be a recent graduate of the program or a local professor who teaches the subject. Informational interviews are invaluable tools for getting the scoop on a particular industry, and maintaining a relationship with your interviewee over the course of your college career could come in handy when looking for a job after you've graduated.