If you're just starting the college search you may be overwhelmed by the number of options when it comes to choosing a major. Check out the list of majors at UMass-Amherst for example. There are over 80 different areas of study for undergraduate students. Or look at the majors at Penn State's main campus. Over 160! Even though some of these larger schools have a staggering amount of academic majors to choose from, figuring out what you should major in can be just as tricky if you're thinking about attending a smaller school.
So how are you supposed to figure out what you'll be studying for the next four years of college while you're still in high school?
Here are three fun and creative ways to explore possible majors before college:
1. Look up the course requirements for specific programs.
Start online! Visit the website of the college you've been thinking about the most -- or if you're completely new, just start with your state's largest public college. Most colleges make the course requirements for each major easily available on their academic department web pages.
Pick of an area study that interests you and check out what classes you'd have to take if you were to pick a certain major. Then take a look at what the course requirements would be if you were to pick the same major at a different college to get an idea of what classes are the most common.
Read the course descriptions carefully. Do they feel like classes you'd be itching to take or classes that would bore you to tears? Remember, you're going to spend a lot of time in these classes, so they better be on topics that will keep you engaged!
2. Sit in on a college class.
Have you always loved music classes and playing instruments? Were you always first chair in the school band? Perhaps you should consider sitting in on a college music class. If you're visiting colleges during a time when students are in class, most tour guides are willing to accommodate this request if you can give the school admissions department a heads up.
If you're willing to skip the tour, look up professors on the college’s website. Most will have contact information of professors by department. Send an email to one who's teaching a class you're interested in. Explain that you're a prospective student and would like to get a feel for how the subject is taught at the college level. Most professors, if there's room in the class, are willing to let you sit in on their class and even answer questions afterward when you're there.
3. Attend a summer program at a college.
During the summer, some colleges will offer a variety of programs to high school students to give them a preview of college life. Some programs are overnight, while others you can commute to from your home during the day. Think about what classes you've enjoyed the most in high school and select a summer program based off your own interest. After all, it's your summer! Who wants to be doing geometry proofs all July when they can't stand math?
Current students and professors at the college will teach many of these programs. This gives you a chance to ask good questions that can help you narrow down your choices: What classes are required? What type of personality would do well in the major? What research and internship opportunities are available to students? What are common career paths of those who graduate?
Still can't decide? Don't sweat it!
Many new college students choose to enter undeclared or undecided and then choose their major after they've had a chance to get their feet wet with a few college classes. There are also the possibilities of switching your major or choosing to take internships in fields unrelated to it. Remember, whether you've picked a major to declare or not, you never have to feel stuck.