Dr. Way's Guide to Picking a College & Major
Selecting a college or university and an undergraduate major field of study
can seem overwhelming, mainly because the resources available online make it seem this
way. This is my attempt to provide an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide along
with some tidbits of wisdom that I have picked up along the way.
- Make a list of majors that interest you (see "Picking a Major" below)
- Make a list of colleges that interest you and offer those majors (see
"Picking a College" below)
- Pick your top few favorites and apply
- Select the best fit from among your acceptances
- Enroll as your selected major, or as undeclared, knowing that a change of major is common
Picking a Major
- List Jobs: Make a file on your computer with a list of jobs could you see yourself doing someday
- List Majors: Add to the file a list of college majors that help to prepare you for those jobs
- Revise Lists: When something new occurs to you, add it to your list or remove it from your list
Picking a College
- List Schools: Add to your file of jobs and majors a list of colleges and universities that interest you
even a little (Wikipedia)
- Revise the List: Judge each school in your list by these factors:
- Majors: offers enough of the majors you are interested in
- Affordability: costs for tuition, room & board, travel to and from, books
- Your Income: summer and school jobs, scholarships, other contributions
(see "Paying for College" below)
- Location: town or city where you could live for 4 years (Wikipedia)
- Advice: recommendations from family and friends
- Academics: your background vs. typical student background
- Try to get your list down to 5 or fewer, so it is manageable
- College Visits: Make a scheduled visit to your favorites to make sure
you like them
- Done: You now have a list of colleges that are suitable for you
- Changing majors: A huge percentage of college students change majors.
Prepare mentally for this possibility and be open to discovering a major you
hadn't before considered, even after you are already attending school. Almost
everybody is initially uncertain about what to study and what career to pursue,
and this is because there are so many options and possibilities. Often the only
way to make a decision that is right for you is to take classes in the areas
that you think you are interested in.
- Success is up to you: Remember that your success is all on you, not on your degree,
not on your professors and not on your choice of college. It is up to you.
- Just a foundation: Remember that a college major is only a basic foundation, and is not job training
(except in a very few disciplines, such as nursing and education).
- Minors and Double Majors: Having a second major and a minor area of
study is fine if you want the extra knowledge you'll gain, but it won't help you
to get a job.
- Start your career today: Do something every day that you would do is one of your envisioned jobs.
Do what people do who do the job you want to do. Don't waste four years,
expecting that your college degree will suddenly make you into something. Start
- Do it: The best use of your time is to start doing the things people
do who are in your envisioned line of work. If you want to be a writer, write.
If you want to make movies, make movies. If you want to run a business, start
and run your own business. If you want to develop apps, web sites or computer
games, do that. If you want to teach, find places to teach. If you want to do
research, do research. Figure out how to do it and then do it.
- Where you go 1: If you are determined to be excellent, it really
doesn't matter what college or university you attend. People who make a big deal
out of the importance of selecting a particular school don't realize that future
employers and co-workers are far more interested in whether or not you can do
that job than the institution that issued your degree. If you can do the job and
do it well, that really is all that matters.
- Where you go 2: You need a degree. Pick a school that you like that
has fields of study that interest you in a city or town that you could enjoy
living in for 4 years or even for a big chunk of the rest of your life. Many
people wind up living in or near the place where they went to college.
- How many applications: Choose 2 to 5 good-fit schools and apply to
them. Any more than that is just wasting your time and money.
- Employability: If you are determined to work in your field of
interest, it doesn't matter what the job outlook is for graduates with a
particular major. You can make a career doing whatever you want to do. If you
are even a little undecided, it is helpful to look at the
forecast for what jobs will have a solid
demand for new graduates in coming years (Fastest
Paying for College
- Make finding money to help pay for college your obsession
- Search online for scholarships, large and small, and apply
- Coming soon, more concrete tips for how to pay for college