If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, “I don’t know what I want to study in college and so how can I figure out where to go to college?”
The belief that you need to know what you’re going to major in during college in order to thoughtfully select schools to apply to is perhaps one of the most prevalent and damaging myths surrounding the college application process. Although it’s true that some students need to decide on a major prior to applying to college, particularly those interested in specialized subjects such as architecture, engineering, or nursing, the vast majority of college applicants don’t need to have chosen a major in order to engage in a thoughtful college search.
So, What’s the Reality?
When college applicants are asked to identify their desired major or course of study, they list “Undeclared” or “Undecided” more commonly than anything else. And even when students do enter college with a major in mind, an estimated 75 percent change their major at least once before graduation. Finally, while students may agonize over their choice of major, many sources including The Washington Post, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the Census Bureau report that the vast majority of college graduates work in jobs unrelated to their major.
What to Do?
So, if choice of major isn’t the best way to go or only way to select colleges to apply to, what academic factors should guide your choices? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you a visual, aural or tactile learner? Is your favorite class lecture style, discussion based or hands on? Each of these have implications for the types of schools and classes that would best meet your needs.
- Do you prefer to work independently or in groups of students?
- How much does your relationship with your teachers impact your performance? Many students report that they do much better in classes where they like the teacher and the teacher knows them. If this is you, keep it in mind. If your introductory biology class has 600 students, it will be next to impossible to develop a relationship with the instructor.
- How assertive are you? How comfortable are you with seeking support? Academic advising and support systems vary widely by institution. Know your own style and seek colleges that will foster your success.
- How well do you manage time? Are you a “quick” study? How you answer these questions might suggest whether you’d be happier at colleges with quarter system calendars versus those with semester systems. Keep in mind that a few colleges offer alternative calendars such as a block calendar.
- How do you prefer to demonstrate what you know? Objective tests and term papers are very different ways of demonstrating knowledge. Class size impacts how you will be evaluated.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but one to help you begin thinking about yourself and what kind of student you are. Understanding yourself, your strengths and your challenges are key to choosing colleges that will help you not only succeed, but also thrive.