By Casey Lewis
The start of the second semester marks a time when many universities require college sophomores to declare their majors. By the time spring rolls around, students have conquered a variety of classes and discovered what appeals to them, but narrowing it down to a single subject or two can still seem like a make-or-break decision. An important thing to keep in mind is that, while college majors certainly affect the jobs you'll apply for after school, they don't necessarily dictate your future. Internships, part-time jobs, grad school, and other resume-builders will make a big impact on the direction your career will take, too.
We talked to college students about how they chose what to study while pursuing undergrad degrees, and what kind of advice they have for those who are still undecided.
Look to your family for insight.
Sometimes it's hard to recognize your own strengths and skills; your family and close friends are a great sounding board when it comes to outlining your talents and tapping into your passions. "I consulted with my parents and my siblings, because they're my biggest support group and know me the best out of everyone," says Chanel, 19, from California. "Although my family influenced what I decided on, they never pushed or pressured me to major in something I wouldn't enjoy. It was exciting to have the liberty to choose what I wanted to do, knowing I would be happy and successful."
Consult your academic advisor.
Academic advisors and college counselors are trained to help students figure out what they want to do with their lives and how to go about achieving their goals. Every campus has a Student Services department, so utilize this campus resource. "Choosing a major was a very difficult decision for me," says Alex, 19, from Maine. "One person who helped a lot with choosing my major was my advisor. She recommended I take a variety of classes my freshman year to make sure I knew what I wanted to study. This ended up being extremely helpful and I'm much happier now!"
Consider different career paths within an industry that you love.
Instead of focusing on a particular job, delve into different facets of an industry that interests you. "I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer from day one, but when I took classes at an art school, I was awful," says Ashley, 20, from California. "Luckily, I took another class that introduced me to journalism. During my senior year in high school, I tried it out with my newspaper and yearbook classes. I followed that passion and, even though I still have a love for fashion, I found a way to be involved with the whole atmosphere without the designing aspect."
Focus on what makes you happy.
Not only does your major determine what you'll be studying during your time as an undergrad, but it also influences your future career. Instead of focusing on immediate pay-off, look for something you'll enjoy in the long run. "When it came time to choose my major, I went with the option that I knew would make me the happiest even though it may not make me the most financially successful," says Danielle, 18, from Virginia. "In my opinion, if I am happy then I have achieved the greatest success possible." California native Kelly, 18, also believes in choosing passion over practicality: "My parents always encouraged me to do what I loved and what I was passionate about. I want to be able to have fun in my work and always love what I'm doing."
Follow your dreams, no matter how big they may be.
You can aim high—just put a plan in place. Study what you love, apply for internships at companies you're interested in, and create actionable goals. "When it came time to choose a major, I had no hesitations," says Madeleine, 18, from Wisconsin. "I've known since I was in fifth grade when I was inspired by Dreams of My Father, a book by our President, that I wanted to either be a part of politics or write about it. Eight years later, I'm still passionate about it. I'm still unsure what form that might take once I finish my four years at New York University—perhaps writing for The New Yorker or having a show on CNN."
Don't know what you want to do yet? Don't worry—big decisions take time.
Weigh the pros and cons. Make lists. Talk to friends, family, and campus advisors. And if you still don't know what you want to study in school, look into creating your own major, or doubling up in a few things that interest you. "I'm jealous of the guys and girls from high school who have always known what they want to do with the rest of their lives," says Megan, 19, from California. "But I know that I will eventually find my calling and have realized that it's okay if I don't know exactly what that is right now."