How to Choose Your Undergraduate Major

When I was in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I knew what I liked.

We all know what we like.

Don’t believe me?

What did you spend your time doing when you were young and had all the time in the world?

Did you read books?

Yes?

What sort of books?

Did you try to write your own stories?

Or maybe you made things. Or  you broke things just to put them back together.

For me, it was reading and writing.

I have always been an avid reader.  I still read more than anyone I know.

I remember my mother buying me a set of Encyclopedias when I was 8 years old. World Book Encyclopedia Volumes A – Z was a godsend to appease my unflinching curiosity.

I used to try to write as well when I was a kid. I didn’t do it for validation or to make money. I did it because I enjoyed the process of creation. There was a certain magic I felt when I would read the stories my hand had crafted. This satisfaction carried over to school when I would have to write essays and term papers. Where others felt frustration I only felt intellectual satisfaction.

So when it came time to pick a major you would expect me to have gone with the obvious choices for someone that liked to read and write – something in the humanities or social sciences.

Wrong.

Trust yourself

No one will ever know you like YOU.

The world told me that majoring in any subject that enabled me to merely practice my passions – reading and writing –  weren’t good enough. You should pick something practical I was told. Unfortunately, I listened.

I decided to be practical.

I felt, at the time, that I wasn’t mathematically inclined so I stayed away from anything that needed a lot of numbers. At the same time, I stayed away from subjects that didn’t require any numbers as well, because in my mind somehow I associated careers that required math with worldly success.

The practical choice I felt, with the little research I did, was business management. I saw classes like marketing and though “Memorizing and a little writing… I can do that!”.  I saw subjects like economics, finance and accounting and assumed the math couldn’t be that bad. Someone told me it was all basic arithmetic (They were wrong. Finance is actually pretty math heavy).

I soon realized the folly of dedicating 4 years to something you aren’t passionate about. You leave with little value in relation to the money and time I spent.

(I actually found a deep appreciation for business and finance years after I was done with my undergrad. I learned more on my own than I ever did in school).

I think back to what I had learned in my 4 years there and the only subjects that come to mind are the electives that I took. The reason is clear. I chose my electives because I was genuinely interested. Which is always the right reason.

Actually, it should be the only reason.

The right approach

Don’t get caught up thinking about the future all that much.

People change and so will you.

It is very likely that by the time you are 10 years into your career what you did in your undergrad will be entirely different than what you are doing.

I majored in business but ended up as a software engineer. Pretty ironic for someone who felt he wasn’t good at math. I do still read and write a lot though (even if it’s mostly code).

Having said that  below are some points if you  ever find yourself feeling like you HAVE to pick a major rather than WANTING to pick one:

  1. Think about what you are good at, what you enjoy doing and what you do the most. Usually there will only be a handful of things that all 3 of these things apply to.
  2. Find people that you admire professionally. This could be your dad’s friend or a public figure. Connect with them in anyway possible. Leverage platforms like Linkedin to see what their skills, experience, education and interests are. Try to identify majors that align with their skill-sets and education.
  3. Get immersed into the subject. If its computer science; join meetups for developers, subscribe to tech blogs, start hobby projects, watch youtube videos, read books. Do as much as you can before you enroll into the program. This way everything you study will have relevance and therefore will be so much more valuable.
  4. If you still don’t know what to choose then just don’t. Simple as that. Don’t make the mistake of picking something just because you feel like you need to because everyone else is. Take a year off to figure things out. Make it a year of self exploration. Try different things. It beats spending money and time doing something just for piece of paper.
  5. You can always reinvent yourself. Just know that if you find yourself in a major you hate you can switch. A year delay isn’t that big a deal in the gran scheme of things. You might even realize that you don’t need school to do what you want.

 

Closing Thoughts

The important thing is you are engaged. You learn new things. You forge new experiences. New friendships. New points of view.

These are the things you will carry with you.

Your area of study in your undergrad does not have as much impact on your future as you might think.

Remember, your education in this modern economy doesn’t guarantee you material success.

What does matter is your attitude, creativity and passion. What matters is being a contrarian. Standing out.

Doing things just because they are safe or practical is the opposite.

 

 

 

 

 

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