How to Help Your Student Pick a College Major

By Huntington Learning Center

Is your student unsure what they want to study in college? They’re not alone! Many students go off to pursue higher education without a college major in mind. While it’s perfectly acceptable to take a little time to figure that out, college is an investment of both time and money. Your student should start exploring strengths and possibilities in order to make the most of their college experience.

Here are several tips on how to help them do so:

Ask your student what they like about school. Start with the aspects of school that your student finds most exciting or enjoyable. For now, try to focus on the academic areas of school, but if your student can’t seem to come up with anything, get more specific:

  • What do they like about each class?
  • What is the highlight of each?
  • What type of school work do they like most (e.g., writing assignments that involve creative expression or math problems that have a right or wrong answer)?

Talk about what intrigues them. What does your student enjoy doing most when they’re not at school? This might highlight a few skills that fall outside of the report card—like working with people and on teams, tinkering on the computer, talking/public speaking or something else. If your student loves their role on the school cybersecurity team, there are many excellent career pathways that could suit them. If your student enjoys their work as a peer tutor, that might be a sign they should consider an educational major and career. Or, if your student is passionate about their work on the yearbook committee and their role as captain of the basketball team, perhaps the broad area of communications is worth consideration.

Have them make a list of goals and things that are important to them. Many teenagers just aren’t sure yet what they want to do in life, but you can set the wheels in motion with some brainstorming. Have your student keep a notebook of college major options with pages where they can jot down:

  • Subjects they like
  • Academic strengths
  • When they’re most engaged/excited throughout their day
  • Homework/assignments/projects they like best in school (a running list)
  • How they work best (setting, alone/with people, time of day, type of work)
  • Jobs that sound interesting or fun
  • People they know (aunts, uncles, family members, neighbors) whose careers seem appealing
  • Activities, volunteer work or jobs they have done/held throughout high school that they’ve enjoyed
  • What they want to change about the world
  • What they could talk about or think about for hours on end

Encourage them to take a career assessment. Sometimes students have no specific ideas about what they want to do in life. That’s when a career aptitude test can be valuable. There are several types, and the high school guidance counseling office might have recommendations. Generally, these tests assess strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, work styles, values and more and suggest possible college majors and career ideas. The great thing about this process is that your student might gain ideas they’d never even considered before. Keep in mind that your student is only a teenager and not familiar with many jobs or fields of study out there.

Choosing a college major is a big life decision, but remember: many students use college itself as a chance to explore their options. For now, remind your student to put effort into the thought process like they put effort into the college search and application process. You’ll help them get their mind working and start planning ahead so that they make the most of the college investment.