The words “College Major” can make those about to enter college want to scream. Everyone is asking, “What are you going to major in?” and many high schoolers may want to say, “Truthfully, I have no idea.”
Instead of leaving you with that panicked feeling of not knowing what to do about choosing a college major, we asked 1,000 college graduates to share their experiences with this decision. We also asked them how that decision impacted their work life after college. Our responses came from people who graduated before 1997 and between 1997 and 2015, aged 22 to 67. This provided a broad sample of experiences – enough experiences to provide you with an arsenal of insights that will give you superpower over this tough decision.
WHO SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO?
We asked the question:
Who influenced you the most in your choice of college major?
You can take comfort in our results, which showed that listening to yourself the most is your best bet.
- Our results showed 41.68%% of our college graduates who listened to themselves more than anyone else when choosing their college major found that they were happiest with their financial outcome after college. 23.37% felt that they were earning about what they expected, and 14.31% felt that they were better off financially than they expected.
- Let’s compare that result to those who let their parents influence their decision the most. Only 9.31 % of college graduates were happy with their financial outcome after college when they let their parents sway their decision the most.
- Letting their guidance counselor have the strongest influence resulted in 4.29% of the college graduates in our survey feeling happy with their financial outcome after college.
- Finally, the last results of any significance were those college graduates who relied on their teachers as their strongest influencers. We found that only 3.76% who let their teachers play a large role in their decision ended up happy with their financial status after college.
Dr. Hendrie Weisinger, author of “The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most,” supports the importance of listening to your own thoughts when making important decisions. In his recent blog for The Huffington Post titled Decision Making: Use Your Intuition, he says:
WHEN SHOULD YOU CHOOSE YOUR COLLEGE MAJOR?
This time we asked two questions.
“What year of school were you in when you chose your college major?” and “Are you satisfied with your income in that field?” This told us how their financial outcome was impacted by when they chose their college major.
Here are the results.
- Freshman year of college turns out to be the best time to choose your major. Our findings showed those who chose their major in their freshman year of college had the largest percentage of satisfaction with their financial outcome after college: 36% more were satisfied than dissatisfied.
- Senior year of high school followed with the second best time to choose a college major, with 29% more people satisfied than those dissatisfied with their financial outcome after college.
- Junior year of high school came in third place with 20% more satisfied than dissatisfied.
- Sophomore year of college landed in fourth place with 11% more satisfied than dissatisfied.
- Junior year of college was in last place, standing out by far as the worst time to choose a college major. Our results showed that 28% of students who waited until their junior year of college were more dissatisfied than satisfied with their financial status after college.
Troy Onink, a writer for Forbes, specializes in writing about financial planning to pay for college. In his recent article Bad College Advice – the Undeclared Major, he writes:
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that our survey showed juniors in college as the group most dissatisfied with their financial status after college. Waiting that long can often mean staying in college longer and making college more expensive than it may need to be.
SHOULD YOU CHANGE YOUR MAJOR WHILE IN COLLEGE?
Our survey results spoke loud and clear when answering the question: “After changing your major in college, did you feel the new major was a better fit?” The results overwhelming showed that over 80% of both males and females felt that the new major was not a better fit.
We dug deeper to find out how changing their college major impacted their income after college. Our most compelling results were:
When looking at a broader range of income we found:
SHOULD YOU TRY DIFFERENT CAREER PATHS?
After our data showed that college graduates who didn’t change their major turned out to be better off financially, we wanted to take a closer look at this impact and see what type of positions they held.
Our data showed that people who stayed on track and didn’t change their major had a better chance of working in middle and top management than those who didn’t take a direct route.
Interestingly, we also saw a higher percentage of people who didn’t change their major were self-employed. 9.34% worked for themselves versus only 2.75% who had changed majors.
Since many colleges and universities have hundreds of majors to choose from, it’s understandable that students may feel the need to change their major while in college. It’s difficult to have so many choices and have enough confidence that your original choice was the best choice. This overabundance in choices could surprisingly be a bad thing according to author Greg McKeown. In his book “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” and in his article for Harvard Business Review with the same title, he writes about the dilemma he calls the “the clarity paradox.” It emphasizes the importance of clarity and the value of following a direct route toward your success.
HOW CAN YOU DESIGN THE LIFE YOU WANT?
These two graphs show what the 1,000 graduates who took our survey have been experiencing financially in their various fields of work. We selected the top 20 responses for each graph. The first graph shows what they majored in and their financial status 3–5 years after college. The second graph shows the same information but 6–10 years after college. This graph provides a sample that can give you insight about the choices people who have already traveled this road have made and how those choices worked out for them.
Science tells us that fear short circuits the brain. So it is understandable that many high schoolers are not finding it easy to make a decision about choosing a college major. Many may feel this decision is more than just choosing a college major – it’s choosing who you will be in the future.
We hope that the results and information we’ve gathered gives you a chance to stop and think about the experiences of others, and that their insights will empower you in your decision.
There is one last thought we would like to leave you with: