The Future Need Not Be Clear: Why Picking A Major Can Be Daunting

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Illustration by Dionel De Borja

When we enter college, opportunities abound. We get to choose from dozens of different majors, and since we can combine majors and minors, there are hundreds of different combinations. For students who have spent most of their life before college cooped up in an area they know like the back of their hand with faces they’ve seen since they were young, such choices can be exciting. College can seem like a sea of possibilities, but that sea can also become overwhelming. And worse, we are expected to know exactly what we want from those hundreds of choices.  

Though picking a specific career by the time you reach college is a helpful head start, especially in certain fields, it should definitely not be idolized or even expected. Colleges do not lend a helping hand when it comes to this uncertainty. Though they give us these options, they also often make us choose a major before applying, labeling us before we can genuinely begin learning about ourselves. This label can serve as a deterrence to ascertaining what one’s true calling is. This is mainly due to something psychologist Meg Jay labels as “switching costs.”  

Though Jay uses switching costs to define difficulty in getting out of a relationship, the idea can be translated to getting out of a career, or at a smaller scale, a major. Switching costs are the unforeseen resources we place in a decision: time, money, etc. Something similar can happen with switching majors. The more time, effort or thought we put into the label we come into college with, the harder it is to change that label, even when we know or find out that it is no longer the right fit. In the case of college majors, finding out too late can mean lost money, time and resources that could’ve been put somewhere else. In a study published by CNBC, researchers found that 61% of students wished they could go back and change their majors.  

This is a terrifying reality. It is not entirely our fault that we are at a loss when it comes to picking something like a major. From a young age, we were told that we could be anything, do anything, and then we are expected to know which anything we wish to do by the time we hit eighteen. On top of that, the job market’s volatile nature makes picking a major based on trends difficult. However, that does not mean that we should abandon the idea of higher education altogether and pick up a string of jobs hoping that something sticks. There are ways we can ensure that we don’t become lost in the sea of opportunity.  

First, it is essential to realize that picking a major is necessary and can take time as it requires self-knowledge. Additionally, we must understand that, unfortunately, we cannot be anything we want to be. We each have different strengths and weaknesses, and those are going to align us with specific professions and, therefore, majors. 

It is also important to note that choosing the ‘wrong’ major is not the end of the world. Hearing stories of people who began on one path and ended up in a completely different field are not uncommon. Indeed, a study cited in the Washington Post says that only 27% of college students have a job related to their major. Though choosing the right major early on may have helped the 73%, they were all still able to find employment.  

To face the daunting nature of possibility, we need to be open to uncertainty and new experiences, even if they lead in the opposite direction of what we thought we wanted. The future is full of twists and turns, and the only way to reach the end is to be willing to twist and turn along with life rather than fight the change that approaches. 

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