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How to make a major decision

If you know you want to pursue a health career it makes sense to choose a major that will start you on that path.

Declaring a college major can feel like the biggest decision you’ve ever made. Many students believe their college major determines what careers they can eventually pursue. Choose the wrong major, and you’re stuck forever in a field that doesn’t interest you.

That’s just not true. Your college major does not determine your career path – or forever exclude you from other career options. Many people currently work in careers that have nothing to do with their college major.

If you know you want to pursue a health career, it makes sense to choose a major that will start you on that path.

However, most careers do require some academic preparation, so if you know you want to pursue a health career it makes sense to choose a major that will start you on that path.

Choose wisely

Choosing a major shouldn’t feel like a life-or-death decision, but it is an important milestone in your life. It’s an opportunity for you to think deeply about what you want – and to begin making it happen.

  • Don’t rush to declare a major. Even if it seems like all your friends already “know what they want to do.” Take the time you need to make a decision you’ll feel good about.
  • Consider all your options. You can probably name a dozen majors off the top of your head. But your college may offer a hundred more. Spend some time on your college website or talk to an academic advisor. Make a list of all the subjects that appeal to you. Even if you don’t major in one of them, you might decide to minor in the subject or take some classes as electives.
  • Choose a subject that interests and challenges you. The more you enjoy your classes, the better you’ll do – and higher grades can open more doors for you down the road.
  • Build on your strengths. Studying space physics may sound fascinating, but if you have trouble with basic math, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. An academic advisor can help you assess your strengths and identify areas of study you’ll enjoy – and where you can excel.
  • Dip your toes in the water before you dive in. Once you’ve identified a few possible majors, talk to students who have taken classes in those departments. Go to the library or bookstore and flip through the assigned textbooks. Ask instructors if you can sit in on a class or two. The more information you have, the more confident your decision will be.
  • Check the pre-requisites and degree requirements. You may have to take extra courses to qualify for a particular program, pay lab fees, or complete an internship. You may even have to stay in school a little longer than you planned. Make sure you understand all the costs of a potential major – both in terms of time and tuition.
  • Don’t pick a major based on salary potential. No major is a guarantee of financial success. There are English majors who are billionaires and MBAs who are flipping burgers. You’re more likely to do well if you choose a major that interests you, than if you choose one just because you think it will lead to a high-paying job.
  • Keep your options open. Focusing your studies too narrowly now can limit your opportunities later on. If you’re not certain about your career path, choose a major that qualifies you for a broad range of jobs and job settings. Majoring in biology, for example, can help you prepare for a wide range of health professions. You can always pursue more specialized training later on. 
  • Don’t let anyone else make this important decision for you. Seek advice from friends, family and academic counselors, but decide for yourself what you want to study. This is your life. Even if your parents are paying for school, they should respect your right to make this decision yourself – particularly if you’ve researched your options carefully and can clearly explain the reasons behind your choice.

What if I change my mind?

Join the club. It’s a big one. Between 65% and 75% of students change their major at least once during their college career.

College is a time of discovery. The person you were when you first walked across campus may seem like a distant relative of the person who walks across that stage at graduation. It’s only natural for your interests and goals to change.

At the same time, college is expensive. Changing your major can mean taking additional courses and even staying in school longer than you planned. So it makes sense to make this major decision carefully. Take the time to think about what you want, and plot a course that will get you closer to that goal.

To learn more about the academic requirements for different health careers, scroll through the list of careers in the left margin of this site, click on those that interest you, and then click on the “Preparation” tab.