So what do you do?

Deciding how to pick your major doesn’t have to be all painful. Schwartz has some good advice, which I’ve adapted here for the high school senior picking a major:

  1. Decide what’s most important to you. Sound impossible? It’s not, actually. Take a look at this exercise for finding your values. Once you have a list of 3-5, then:  

  2. Evaluate the importance of each value. Rank your top values, if possible. Also, ask yourself why you want to go to college. Are you looking to gain practical skills that will help you in a specific career? Or do you just want to learn about a lot of different things? If the latter, your major may not matter as much, and you might want to consider a school or major that offers a lot of flexibility in its curriculum, like the open curriculum at Brown.

  3. Consider your options. How?

    1. Explore the amazing database at www.onetonline.org by typing a search word like “engineer” in the box at the top right. It’s an AMAZING resource. 

    2. Take an online major or career quiz. I like the one at www.gladeo.com. Or ask yourself these five questions.

    3. Order the book Do What You Are. Take the personality test at the beginning and read about the careers that correspond to your personality. This isn’t the only way to figure out what you want to do, but it’s the best and most efficient way of helping students I’ve ever found.

  4. Ask yourself if your major choice will bring you closer to your top value(s). If your top value, for example, is “independence,” will the major(s) you’ve chosen be likely to facilitate that?

  5. Keep exploring. How?

    1. Find out which classes are required for each major. UC Santa Cruz, for example, has a clickable page that gives this info. So pick a school you like and see what your freshman year would look like. (Click here for more on why picking your college classes before you even write your college application is a good idea.)

    2. Job shadow someone in a career you find interesting. This is actually easier than you think. Ask your parents, guidance counselor, and favorite teachers if they know anyone in the field you’re interested in. Ask them for that person’s email. Email that person and say, “I’m interested in potentially doing what you do for a living, but I’d love to find out more about what it’s really like. Could I perhaps chat with you on the phone for 15 minutes or, if possible, job shadow you one day? I’d really appreciate any guidance you could offer.” Simple as that. Be polite and kind. The worst that can happen is the first person you ask says “no.” If so, don’t take it personally, just find someone else to ask.

Hey, Ethan! Can you guarantee that once I do this I’ll find my dream career?

Nope. But once you’ve done all this, chances are you’ll be a little closer.

Finally, something that’ll really mess with your head:

After you graduate college, the Cheesecake Factory thing will happen again. And it may sound something like this…

WORLD: So you’ve just graduated college. What would you like to do with your life?

YOU: Um. What are my options? Can I see the menu?

WORLD: Sorry, there is no menu.

YOU: What?

WORLD: That’s right. Your options are now limitless. (Pause.) Good luck with that.

*   *   *   *   *

RELATED LINKS:

Click here for Five Common Myths About Majors.

Here’s Barry Schwartz’s TED talk on the paradox of choice.

Because I like to offer other perspectives, here’s a counter-argument to the paradox of choice theory.

Another great read: How to Choose a College: A Step-By-Step Guide

Check out these five reasons why it doesn’t matter what you major in.