What Should I Study in College? Experts Advise How to Narrow it Down
It’s potentially one of the most important questions you will ask in your life: What should I study in college? Deciding on what to study means determining which degree to pursue, which can impact what job you end up with, where you live and many other important factors. It’s a big question for anyone considering going to college, which makes it an important question for us.
Deciding what to study in college doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. There are a number of ways to help you decide on a degree before you show up for your first class. We assembled a step-by-step guide with advice from career experts to help you narrow down which degree to pursue.
Your step-by-step guide for choosing what to study in college
Choosing which degree to pursue in college can be intimidating. But don’t let fear and indecision deter you. Follow this expert advice to help you narrow down your degree options in no time.
Step #1: Know yourself first
Before you can start thinking about what type of degree or major you should choose – even before you have decided on which college to attend – you need to understand who you are as a person, according to Beth Probst, owner of guided self-assessment company At The Core. “Start by noting things like the traits and skills that you already possess, the kind of environments you thrive in as well as those you don't, the things you value, your personal preferences for working in groups or individually, and so forth,” Probst says.
Knowing where you excel and where you don’t is an important factor in determining what to study in college and what career area to pursue. Ignoring your likes, dislikes, skills and talents can lead to a career you dread going to every day.
“Once you know yourself better, it's much easier to consider different careers that are of interest to you,” Probst says. “Before you make a decision about what to major in, set yourself up for success in college and beyond by having a targeted career in mind.”
Step #2: Pinpoint your passions
In addition to knowing yourself first, finding out what you are passionate about is a key element in determining what to study. You’ve surely heard the advice “do what you love” when it comes to choosing a career. But since your career is in many ways reliant on the degree you choose, you should begin to ask yourself this question before deciding what to study.
“There is no substitute for passion and it cannot be taught,” says Austin Duvall, a financial planner who has helped families prepare for college. He advises students to follow their instincts when choosing a career path. Of course, this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It’s not always obvious which careers will put your interests to good use.
“A major isn't always the exact same title as the desired industry. Students interested in business, for example, may major in accounting, finance, psychology or marketing,” says Ashley Hill, a college success coach and scholarship search strategist.
It’s important to not rule anything out early on. It will take time to understand what exactly you are cut out for. Pay attention to the direction your interests are taking you, and don’t be intimidated by a degree just because of its stigma.
Step #3: Look beyond the books
Don't just follow your academic interests, but also look at the other aspects of your life, advises Neha Gupta, author of The Four Year Plan. Gupta advises students who are undecided on a degree to ask themselves a number of questions, like How do I like to interact with people? How do I best learn? Which lifestyle works best with me?
“Each major has a culture surrounding it and it's important that you're surrounded by professors and peers who you’re excited to work with and learn from,” Gupta says.
Looking beyond the books also means understanding which industries or careers a degree might lead to. Hill advises gaining experience and exposure to a potential field of work by volunteering and connecting with professionals within your area of interest. Knowing what the industry is like will give you an idea of which degree will work for you.
Step #4: Get your hands dirty
Now you’ve surveyed your skills and interests and done a little research to narrow down which degree you’d like to pursue. But research can only go so far. Sooner or later, the only way you’re going to know is by getting out there and dipping your toes in the waters.
Seek out opportunities to get a taste of the career in a real-world capacity. If you’re considering earning a technology degree, join a computer science club. If an accounting degree seems like the perfect fit, arrange a job shadowing opportunity with a local firm. Interested in graphic design? Check out some online tutorials to start teaching yourself the basics.
Jump at any chance you have to “try before you buy” and get a feel for what the job would really entail. After all, you want to be confident in your choice before making a commitment to a college program. If you get a taste of the field and are hungry for more, that’s a good sign it’s what you’re destined to do.
Capitalize on your strengths
As you can see, deciding on a degree to pursue is a process that takes time—so don’t worry if you can’t decide right away. Now that you have some tips and tricks to help you answer the question “What should I study in college?” you’re well on your way to finding the degree program that’s a great fit for your skills and passions.
If you could use a little more help determining which careers align with your skills, take our Career Aptitude Test to help you figure it out!