What Should I Study in College? Expert Advice for Narrowing It Down
Deciding on what to study in college is a big decision. The degree you pursue can have a strong influence on 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.
But making this decision doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. There are many 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: Get acquainted with yourself
This step might sound like something you’d read in a self-help book, but you really should start with some introspection. As with any big decision, having a good understanding of yourself is a key factor. Any type of degree or major you choose should match up with your personality and strengths. We asked admissions professionals at Rasmussen University how they help students sort through their options.
Jon Olson, Senior Admissions Manager at Rasmussen University, likes to begin with asking students what they’ve enjoyed learning so far.
“I start by asking if there are any subjects that they currently have interest in,” Olson says. He follows up with questions about what type of job they can see themselves having in the future. It can also help to think about past or current jobs—what do you like or dislike about these roles? Do you enjoy working with people, or would you rather be “behind the scenes?” These kinds of questions can help you start narrowing your focus.
Linda Froehlich, Executive Program Manager at Rasmussen University, also asks students what they’ve already eliminated as options.
“I also ask, ‘what do you not want to do?’” Froehlich adds. “Sometimes it helps to eliminate the degrees that you know you would not be interested in.”
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.
Step #2: Gain outside perspectives
In addition to knowing yourself first, it’s a good idea to get insight from trusted family and friends about what possible paths they see you taking in your education and career.
“Ask friends and family what they feel your strengths are,” advises Tim White, CEO of MilePro. “Sometimes, if you’re truly lost as to what area of study to go into, it can be helpful to hear about your skills from other people.”
These questions may shake loose things you didn’t realize about yourself, such as people who know you well consider you a great problem solver or an effective leader, White continues. This is especially powerful coming from people whom you respect or have known you for a long time.
Similarly, focusing on what’s been positive in your life is another realm to gather more insight.
“People tend to pursue majors in areas where they have had a positive classroom experience or a career role model in their life,” says Melanie Hanson, CEO of Education Data Loan Finance.
Hanson recommends asking people what they like about their jobs and what they studied in preparation for their current roles.
Brady Norvall, founder of FindaBetterU®, also recommends asking strategic questions to college and university staff and faculty.
“Go to institutions and speak with—and listen to—career advisors, professors, counselors, other staff you respect,” Norvall says. “Start building a network. You don’t have to take anyone’s advice, but you can’t take anyone’s advice if you don’t ask for it.”
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 assumptions or anecdotes you’ve heard.
Step #3: Look beyond the books
Don't just follow your academic interests, also look at the other aspects of your life. Before making a decision.
Students who are undecided on a degree should ask themselves a number of questions, like how do I like to interact with people? How do I best learn? Which lifestyle works best for me?
Looking beyond the books also means understanding which industries or careers a degree might lead to. Try 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.
Whether that’s trying your hands at design tasks through online tutorials, joining a tech hobbyist club or finding a job shadow opportunity at a large business, these experiences can all help provide additional clarity.
Miranda Reichert, a peer tutor and nursing student at Rasmussen University, knew she wanted to help people, so she initially had her sights set on pursuing a psychology major.
“I ended up switching to cardiac rehab,” Reichert recalls. “Throughout my internship at a hospital, I worked alongside nurses and saw how much they were involved in the patients’ care. I realized I wanted to do something more hands-on, be involved in the acute care process.”
This direct experience solidified for Reichert what she felt called to do.
“As a nurse, you’re caring for individuals at some of the most vulnerable times in their life,” Reichert says. “I wanted to have the opportunity to make a difference in individuals’ lives.”
Jump at the chance for internships and any other opportunities 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 committing 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 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.
Of course, not every educational path leads to a narrow range of potential career options. If you’re looking for ideas on majors that can provide a foundation for a broad base of work roles, check out our article “7 Versatile Degrees for Keeping Your Options Open.”
FindABetterU is a registered trademark of Brady Norvall.