Tips for Determining What You Want to Study in College

September 11, 2021
By AdmissionSight
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Top Tips for Determining What You Want to Study in College

What do you want to study in college? These eight words have haunted high schoolers for decades. Parents, teachers, relatives, guidance counselors, fellow students, and other well-meaning individuals with a genuine interest in your success often ask this question without realizing the amount of weight it brings. Many students who haven’t yet made up their minds feel burdened by the pressure to make a decision. If you find yourself in this position, you’re not alone! Still, you’re probably wondering: how do I figure out what I want to study in college?

We’re happy you asked and that’s exactly what we’ll take a look at today! You’ll come away with a better understanding of when you should know what you want to study, whether it’s essential to know before applying to the Ivies, and some strategies you can implement to speed up the process.

Do I have to know what I want to study before applying to the Ivies?

The Ivy League is a collection of eight highly esteemed universities known for their academic rigor, educational opportunities, and world-class instructors. These schools are known for being highly selective in their application process.

As a result, high schoolers across the country are well aware of the strict requirements necessary to get accepted into the Ivies. Naturally, this leads many to wonder whether it’s necessary to declare a major before applying to one of these universities. As with many Ivy League-related questions, the answer is a bit complicated.

a woman holding a pencil checking the dictionary

Technically, you don’t need to know what you want to study before sending in an application. However, having a clear path of study can strengthen your application by showing admissions officers that you know exactly what you want to do after getting accepted.

This decision and clarity make it easier for schools to see how a particular applicant will make use of their academic offerings if accepted. Still, this doesn’t mean that someone without a clear idea of what they want to study can’t get accepted into the Ivies. It’s just a bit tougher.

When should I know what I want to study?

Many students aren’t sure when it’s ideal to have a decided major. It’s understandable since there are different ideas floating around. Some people say you should know as early as possible while others claim you don’t need to know until your sophomore year of college. So, when should you really know what you want to study? At AdmissionSight, we encourage students to start seriously considering their college major during their freshman and sophomore years of high school.

Around this time, students can start taking more specific coursework and participate in subject-related extracurriculars to explore various fields. This exploration helps students to narrow down potential areas of interest. Although it shouldn’t be forced, it’s ideal to have a good idea of what you want to study when you start sending out applications to colleges.

While not a requirement, this clarity reflects positively on your application. It’s advisable for students to start sending out applications at the beginning of their senior year of high school. This gives students two to three years to give some serious thought about what subject they’d like to pursue in college.

How do I figure out what I want to study in college?

1. Get started early.

As you’ll see in this list of helpful strategies for determining your college major, it’s not something that comes to you out of the blue. You have to put forth the effort to narrow down what interests you and what doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s the sheer number of options that’s more overwhelming than the fact that you’re still undecided.

To help keep yourself from feeling too much pressure, it’s advisable to get started on the journey early. As mentioned earlier, we advise students to start seriously thinking about their field of interest during freshman and senior year. You can definitely start earlier, but it’s not going to give you much of a head start.

The longer you wait, the harder of a time you’ll have when trying to narrow down your options just before applying to colleges. It’s tempting to go through high school without ever actively working to determine your college major. Nothing throughout all four years of high school requires this decision. However, your future self will be thankful for the work you put in early on.

2. Don’t feel rushed.

With your parents, teachers, and even some fellow classmates asking you about your college major, it’s easy to feel pressured to come up with a decision. However, it’s important to not feel rushed in the process. This can lead students to choose random areas of study that don’t really interest them at all which only results in a wasted time and money.

If you follow our first tips of getting started early on in high school, there’s no reason you should feel rushed. Still, this point is even true for students reaching their senior year of high school and even those in the application process. Although you should be putting forth a genuine effort to narrow down your desired field of study, you still shouldn’t rush into a decision.

To help put your mind at ease, your freshman year of college at many schools is typically composed of general courses which you’ll have to take no matter what field you enter. This cushion gives you a little bit more time to determine what you want to study. No matter where you’re at along the process, rushing into a decision can never help. It’s something you should arrive at with clarity and confidence.

3. Make a list of pros and cons.

Lists are going to be your best friend when preparing for college. They’re a great way to maps out your thoughts and make complex decisions. When choosing a major, you’ll most likely have no shortage of fields that pique your interest. Writing these down is a great way not only to keep track of subjects that you might be interested in pursuing, but it’s also an effective way to start eliminating possibilities.

A person writing on a notebook

In addition to simply listing the subjects or majors that you’re considering, you should also write a list of the pros and cons of each. Seeing these advantages and disadvantages next to each other can make it easier to compare and contrast each potential major. When building your pros and cons list, consider every aspect of the field of study.

What kind of classes will you have to take? What kind of materials, equipment, or devices will you be working with? What kind of field will you enter into after school? Instead of feeling overwhelmed with so many different ideas in your head, getting these thoughts down on paper is an excellent way to narrow down your options.

4. Speak with your high school counselor.

High school guidance counselors are a truly valuable yet highly underutilized resource for students. Think about it – these professionals have years of experience helping high school students just like you prepare for college. A large portion of that transition process, as you know first-hand, is determining what students want to study.

There’s a good chance your guidance counselor has already helped thousands of students make this important decision. Why wouldn’t he or she be able to help you too? In reality, they’re an excellent and completely FREE resource that all high schoolers should use. Your counselor might even have insights into your academic interests that you don’t have.

They can pinpoint areas where you seem to excel more than others and make suggestions based on that performance. Counselors who know you a little better might even be able to offer advice based on your personality. Some high schools even offer complimentary career assessments which can provide some helpful insight for determining your major – which leads us to our next point.

5.  Take a career aptitude test.

Woah! Career? You still haven’t figured out your college major. What’s the point of trying to figure out what career you might enjoy? Well, there are a few reasons. First and foremost, if you’re able to determine a career path that you connect with, then you can choose a related major to help you achieve that ultimate goal.

However, even if you don’t come away with that much clarity, a career assessment test can still provide you with some insights about your personality and preferences that you might not have known. Any information you can gather in this area will make it easier for you to start narrowing down your options. As mentioned before, many schools have career aptitude tests, but you can also find countless online. Some are even completely free! Here are some of the best career assessments online:

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Career Aptitude Test
  • Holland Code Career Aptitude Test
  • Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP) Career Aptitude Test
  • Keirsey Temperament Aptitude Sorter
  • The Princeton Review Career Quiz
  • CareerExplorer Career Test
  • MyMajors

6. Consult your friends and family.

Ironically, sometimes those closest to us know us better than we know ourselves. For this reason, talking about your major with friends and family members can prove to be a vital asset to use when whittling down your options. You can trust that those closest to you will provide honest opinions and not just tell you what they think you want to hear.

A student and parent talking about the admission process

This strategy shouldn’t be used to finalize your chosen major as that’s only a decision you can make on your own. Instead, it’s a good way to see how others who know you very well think about your compatibility with a particular area of study. The feedback you receive shouldn’t be taken as gospel but simply additional information to use when making your decision.

For example, if your parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends all say that they think one particular major would be a great match for you, then it’s worth considering further. Of course, you should never let their opinions override what you want but simply inform your decision.

7. Participate in summer programs.

One of the main reasons it’s difficult for students to determine which major they want to pursue is due to a lack of experience and awareness of their fields of interest. In other words, it’s very difficult to know what it’s actually like to actively engage in a particular area of study before doing it. Since this exposure doesn’t come until college typically, many high schoolers aren’t sure where to begin.

That’s where summer programs can help. These programs are specifically designed to give students an in-depth perspective of a particular subject by allowing them to participate in a prolonged activity or project. Summer programs can last anywhere between a few days and a few months.

During this time, students will get firsthand experience in a given subject which can provide indispensable insights into whether or not that particular field is one they’d like to pursue. Another major advantage of summer programs is that they look excellent on applications! While you’re working towards determining your chosen major, you’ll simultaneously be strengthening your application. It’s a win-win!

8. Sign up for extracurricular activities.

Extracurricular activities are another fantastic way to help narrow down your potential fields of interest for college. While there are certainly extracurriculars that don’t give you some insight into this question, there are some academic-related activities outside of the classroom that can provide some excellent insights.


On the field, student athletes are getting ready to run

For example, if you think a political science major might be in the cards for you, participating in an after-school debate club can help you determine if that subject is really something you’d enjoy. Regardless of what areas you’re interested in, participating in related extracurriculars can make it easier to determine what subjects are right for you.

It’s advisable to only stick with one or two extracurriculars throughout your high school years as this commitment reflects better on your applications than participating in countless activities without following through.

9. Work with a college admissions expert.

Preparing for college is one of the most important yet difficult undertakings high schoolers face. Without any clear direction, many students feel as though they’re feeling around in the dark. When it comes to choosing a major, it’s not uncommon for students to feel completely lost without much guidance or support. That’s where a college admissions expert can help.

At AdmissionSight, we’ve helped hundreds of students successfully make the transition from high school to college. More specifically, we can help you determine your college major. How do we do it?

Well, we offer a variety of support and advisory services assisting students throughout their high school years to put themselves in the best position to succeed in college. By helping you choose the best courses and extracurriculars given your goals, AdmissionSight can help you further clarify what areas of study you want to pursue.

Get into your dream college

You don’t have to settle for your fourth, third, or even second-choice university! You have what it takes to get into the school of your dreams. You just need the guidance and support of a professional to help you master the college admissions process.

AdmissionSight is a leading college entrance expert with over a decade of experience helping students achieve their collegiate dreams. In fact, 75% of the students we work with get accepted into the Ivy League or Top 10 universities.

A smiling man looking at his laptop

Over the years, we’ve developed a deep understanding of the college application process. We know exactly what admissions officers are looking for and how high school students can best prepare for this momentous transition.

This expertise informs all of our services which are specifically designed to help high schoolers nail the application process to ensure their chances of getting into the university of their choice is higher than before.

If you’re interested in learning more about our services, feel free to contact us to set up a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.

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