How to Choose a College Major

How to Choose a College Major

For 18 years, we’re told what time to wake up, when to go to school, and what to learn. That kind of guidance and structure can be comforting while we’re young, but when we’re suddenly expected to choose what to do for the rest of our lives, knowing where to go next can be difficult—especially when it comes to choosing a college major that will affect the next four years (and possibly the rest) of our lives.

Deciding on a major is a heavily weighted decision. We’re told to base our choice on so many different factors (our likes, dislikes, goals, strengths, high school extracurriculars, personality, earning potential, parents’ preferences, and so on), but what should we actually consider and what noise we should just drown out? To clear up any confusion, we asked College Fashionista alumni in the fashion industry for their advice on how to make this enormous decision. Here’s what they had to say.

Focus on the Skills You Want to Learn, Not the Name of Your Major

“People put so much stress into deciding what to major in, but it only really matters if you’re going into a very specific area of work, like medical or law,” explains Sierra Cortner, a former English major who currently works in social media marketing at Spring Studios. No matter what your major is, you never know what unique ways you’ll be using your degree after you graduate. Start with two to three interests or passions of yours, and go from there. There are so many major and minor options that you can essentially piece together your perfect education plan.”

Instead of choosing a major that specifically relates to the career you’re interested in, think about what you would like to be doing in your future jobs and what courses can provide you with the necessary skills to reach those goals. Not sure where to start? Take a look at the required classes for all the majors you’re interested in. Are there courses that would teach you the skills you want to learn, or do they seem to be lacking? Don’t just look at the name of your major—consider the whole picture.

Don’t Bail Just Because There’s a Class You Don’t Like

If you’re looking for a major that will always be easy, never challenge your abilities, and never have a dull moment, we’ve got news for you—it doesn’t exist. No matter what you’re studying, there will be courses that make you leap out of bed in the morning, and there will be others that definitely don’t. But it’s important not to take your foundational courses for granted or let them a few beginner classes deter you from continuing your major just because they’re less exciting.

Jaci Carleton, a former marketing major and current business development representative at The RealReal, says that the best classes she took in college were actually basic marketing and sales: “The material I learned in those classes has definitely stuck. You don’t realize in the moment that you will actually use what you’re learning IRL, but you do. Out of all the courses I’ve taken, those have been the most useful post-college.”

You may not realize it while in college, but it’s those “boring” courses that will give you the self-confidence to do your future job to the best of your ability. So if you find one you’re not in love with, take a step back and consider how it will be useful to you down the line before deciding the major isn’t for you.

Think Past the Next 4 Years

Four years ago, the industry was entirely different—which means the jobs probably were too. And that’s exactly why it’s so important to think ahead. When we asked Tess Stairiker, a former journalism major who now works as a design coordinator at Anthropologie, what she wishes she’d known before choosing her major, she told us, “I wish I knew how to create a brand for myself. I see so many students now creating an entire brand for themselves online; they are able to graduate with that brand, which makes them easily marketable and accessible for potential employers. I wish I had known how important that would be in today’s world.”

Obviously you’re not going to be able to predict the future (sigh), but you can reach out to people who have jobs you’re interested in and ask them how they think the industry is changing and where they see it in the next five to 10 years. A little bit of insight on what skills may be valuable in the future can go a long way in helping you find the best path to take to set you up for success.

Research How People You Admire Got to Where They Are

This is one of the few instances when internet stalking is actually quite productive. Don’t be afraid to find industry professionals on LinkedIn and see what they did to end up where they are now. “Look up vice presidents or directors on LinkedIn for the type of work you’re interested in and find out what college degree they have,” recommends Ashley Ha, a former communications studies major who now works as an associate producer at Collectively.

Do you dream of becoming a social media manager one day? Find the mastermind behind your favorite company’s Instagram account and look up not just their major but also everything else they did in college. Did they supplement an English major with a leadership position in their school’s marketing club? Did they study art history and have 10 different social media internships? While seeing what they studied could help you make a decision, it’s also worth remembering that your major isn’t the only thing that matters in college. There are tons of successful people who have taken nontraditional paths.

Consider a Minor to Supplement Your Education

If you’re having trouble finding a major that offers the ability to study everything you want, adding a minor may be right for you. Cortner, who minored in Italian, explained that she learned about language, culture, and politics equally in her minor-track courses, which she says provided her with valuable knowledge in her field: “It’s important to have an understanding of Italian and French [when going into fashion writing]. That way you have background knowledge about the terms and themes you hear and see.” Choosing a major that’s focused on something like a language or art may not be 100% right for you if you’re pursuing something like a marketing job, but supplementing a practical major with a fun minor that can teach you extra skills or provide you with a unique background may give you a leg up when you enter the workforce.

Remember That Nothing Is Set in Stone

Lauren Black, a former public relations major who now works as a manager of content and marketing analytics and insights at Zoe Media Group, explains, “I’ve always been interested in writing but quickly realized that my original major choice (journalism) was not the celebrity, pop culture, and fashion type of writing I had loved. I switched to PR because I knew it would help me get my foot into the fashion industry.” Yes, your major choice is important, but it is not irreversible. If you decide it can’t help you reach your goals, though, first educate yourself about your school’s curriculum procedure to make sure you won’t fall more behind than you can financially afford. Then, if it’s something you decide you need to do, make the switch.

Tess explains that if you realize you didn’t make the right decision the first time, don’t freak out. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I thought this was right for me, but—LOL—it’s not.’ It’s your life, so do what makes you happy,” she says. At the end of the day, you’re paying to attend college so that you can graduate and land your dream career. If your classes aren’t helping you do that, don’t let yourself think that there are no other options. Tons of people switch majors and go on to be successful, and you can, too.

Keep in Mind That Your Major Isn’t the End-All, Be-All of Your Career

What you learn in school does not predict nor guarantee anything about your post-grad life. Laurise McMillian, a former digital communications major and current social media community manager at Refinery29, says, “I accredit most of my success to networking and hustling hard. The reason I was able to attend certain events and get the internships that I did, even while at community college, was because I applied like crazy, followed up like crazy, and did whatever was necessary to get my foot in the door! I took away so, so much from school, but my major is not the primary reason I’m able to say that I got my dream job at Refinery29.”

Your own action will create your life, not what you study. Whether you’re learning valuable lessons from your major or not getting out of it want you want, it’s still beneficial to supplement what you’re learning in school with real-world experience. Potential employers may glance at your degree when they review your résumé, but it’s the extra initiative you take outside of class that will make you stand out.

Take Your Parents’ Advice With a Grain of Salt

This is not to say that you shouldn’t seek guidance from others if you’re not sure what to do. There’s nothing wrong with asking your parents or a trusted source for their thoughts and advice. But, understandably, parents sometimes have their own plans and ideas of what you should study, and they may not always align with what you want. In fact, when we asked Lauren for her advice to students on choosing a major, she simply tells us, “Don’t listen to your parents. You have to enjoy what you do. Try new things and go with whichever one you’re most passionate about. That gut feeling does matter!”

Whether your family is paying for your education or they’re adamant about you pursuing a certain career, it can be hard to ignore what they tell you. But remember: You are the one who will be putting in the hard work to earn the degree, and it’s going to affect the career that you pursue. At the end of the day, the decision is up to you.

How did you choose your major? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured photo by @justsuzethings.