I remember teaching first-year seminar courses years ago. My class and I would tackle a topic, I’d introduce them to what a career in my field would look like, and we’d spend countless hours preparing and revising school plans. There was always one question that stressed students out more than anything: What should my major be? It didn’t matter if the student was 19 or 42 , had no background work experience vs. 20 years in an industry, that one question was the hardest to answer (and rightfully so). It’s hard to separate an interest from a career path and colleges that add major after major don’t make the decision any easier. Many colleges have 125+ majors. More than that, students are constantly told that there are jobs that haven’t even been created yet, which means that there are majors that haven’t yet been created. So as an adult student who’s been introduced to multiple majors, how do you best go about choosing the “right” one? The answer isn’t simple, but it is effective: Choose the problem first.
Years ago, after not succeeding on advising students the way I wanted to, I learned of a new way to approach career and college major advising. I then incorporated the idea into my first-year seminars, especially the ones for my adult students. The concept was to not focus on a college major in the standard, traditional way. You may know of that “old school” method: choose the subject you wouldn’t mind studying for four years and then look for a job that pays the bills. If you can’t find said job, go to grad school. Ring a bell? Well that concept doesn’t really work anymore, so experts began offering a different way to choose majors and think about one’s future. Focus on the challenge that you want to solve.
This fairly new concept emphasizes you being a problem solver and using your prior and acquired skills to solve the problem. From there, you choose your major. The greatest part about this method is that there’s no problem too big to solve. As a matter of fact, it’s best that you think BIG; that way, you have to take your time and work with others to really think of ways to solve said problem and make a positive impact in the world. This translates to a career, not just a job. Based on what you come up with, that will show you which majors you should consider. So here’s how a sample advising session would go. The adviser might ask you the following questions:
- There are so many issues in the world. Think about the problem you’d most like to solve. In one sentence, what is that problem?
- How would you solve the problem? *This answer shows the lens that you’re looking through (i.e. Economics, Psychology, Social Justice, Sustainability, History, Business, etc.).
- Who else would you enlist to help solve the problem? *This answer suggests a possible second major, minor, or certificate. Essentially, it’s a different area of expertise that you might need.
From here, you would take that list of 125 + majors and narrow them down to three or four. After that, you’d reach out to friends, family, and colleagues, discuss your answers, and allow them to tell you what they consider to be your strengths and talents. Also, allow them to provide feedback on the problem that you want to solve. You’ll be surprised by what people really see in you. Their answers can help you narrow your list of three or four majors down to one or two. This also allows you to really explain how you view the world and ways to make it better. Next, (if you have two majors to choose from) choose one. If you’ve got two majors on your list and you can’t decide between them, then you might be looking at a major/minor scenario. Also, if you’re at an institution that allows students to create their own majors, then you really have an opportunity to incorporate multiple fields into one.
Choosing a major (career path) is overwhelming enough. In an effort to make it less stressful and more tailored to your interests and skills, consider approaching it from a problem-solving perspective. With years of work experience behind you, you have a good deal of insight into the problems of the world (or at least the problems within your community) and ways to make it better.
Keep moving forward and be safe,