5 Steps to Choosing the Right College Major

5 Steps to Choosing the Right College Major

Hi again. Natalie, Ashford Community Manager here. As promised, here’s my second blog to help support you on this wild ride we call “college.” We’ve all experienced bumps in the road to graduation, but I’m here to provide my point of view and perspective to help you swerve around those bumps, rather than hitting them head on, like I did. 

This time, I’m addressing the topic of selecting a major. After all, the first question many people ask when they find out you’re on your educational journey is, “What’s your major?” When I was in that boat, oftentimes I would answer with hesitation. When I chose my major, I really didn’t know what outcome to expect, or how the degree program would influence my future life, finances, and happiness. 

With this in mind, I’m going to share my experience so that it may help you find your path. First, I’ll share my strategy for choosing a major, then I’ll share tips on how you can apply my strategy to your situation.

How Did I Pick My Major?

I started college at age 18, right out of high school. I was asked to choose a major from SO many possibilities. At that point in my life, I thought I wanted to be a pharmaceutical representative. That degree plan seemed like the right fit for me, because after two years of waitressing at a local family diner, I knew my strengths were communicating with people, building relationships, and helping others with their needs. Plus, let’s not forget, pharmaceutical reps get paid a pretty penny, and they get to bring treats to their clients’ offices every so often. Yum! This benefit — combined with my social abilities — made it an appealing choice. 

Enough with the donut talk. I enrolled at Temple University’s Fox School of Business in the Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing degree program. That major included behavioral science classes that are necessary to learn how to address contemporary marketing challenges and much more. 

Do you know which subjects were part of that “much more” that I hadn’t taken the time to research? Statistics, accounting, and analytics — ALL the tough classes I feared the most and had no interest in learning. This was quite the wake-up call. I had to decide: Do I continue and potentially fail these scary courses? Do I re-evaluate my career plans? Do I complain to my advisor until I am blue in the face and hope we can swap out some classes? Ultimately, I chose to evaluate my career plan. After all, I had a romanticized image of what it would entail (money, donuts, and talking, remember?). 

Instead of making the decision myself, I reached out to a former soccer coach’s wife who was a pharmaceutical rep. I tagged along with her at work one cold Philadelphia morning. We ventured off to grab coffee and donuts and head to our first office of the day. 

I’ll never forget it. We walked in, and no one really acknowledged our presence. We were motioned to the conference room. After we set up the coffee and donuts, people started filing in. So far this doesn’t seem too bad, right? Well, once my mentor for the day started her presentation, some folks tuned in, enjoying their coffee and listening to what she had to say. But for the duration of the meeting, the office workers and doctors would stand up and leave, look down at their phone, or pop in quickly for a donut and head right back out. This was yet another wake-up call, and I realized that I really would not be happy if I wasn’t creating lasting, meaningful relationships with my clients. 

Needless to say, my path to being a pharmaceutical rep didn’t pan out as I thought it would. It was back to the drawing board, but at that moment, I knew I should have worked backward in my approach to choosing a degree.

Working Backward

Sounds odd, right? Searching for your dream job when you don’t even have a degree? That is exactly what I did, and it opened my eyes to the degree programs I could take, based on what I wanted my career to look like. I no longer wanted to pursue a career as a pharmaceutical rep. I wanted to build relationships via mass media and bring information and my service to clients through media relations and strategic communication. By working backward, I was able to choose a more suitable major. I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Strategic and Mass Communication. 

By working backward, you also can gain a better understanding of any state licensing requirements, soft skills, or certifications your career plan might require. 

How You Can Apply This Strategy

Some of you might be thinking, “What do I do? I’ve already started my degree program and didn’t complete a reverse search like you suggested?” Don’t worry. It might not be too late. As soon as you can, take a few minutes to explore some careers that may interest you and also contact your advisor. It never hurts to have information and receive feedback. 
Here are my Top 5 tips for diving in to determine your true dream job. 

  1. Tag along with a mentor: It was an eye-opening experience when I tagged along with a working pharmaceutical rep for the day. If you can, find someone who works in the profession you’re thinking of pursuing. Ask lots of questions and ask to shadow them at work.
  2. Do an online job search: A simple Google search can help guide you to available positions, and career search engines such as LinkedIn, Monster.com, and Indeed.com are great places to search and set alerts for jobs as they become available. You can also attend local job fairs to learn more about your chosen profession.
  3. Find a position: Identify a role that meets your needs. Keep in mind that many companies are looking for their “unicorn,” so try not to let the job hunting process intimidate you.
  4. Print that job description: Once you find a position you really like, post it on your fridge so you can view it regularly and work toward your goals. Cross off each skill or requirement as you complete it, and you’ll be prepared to tackle the job market upon graduation.
  5. Identify your strengths and weaknesses: Knowing where you excel and where you need improvement can propel you ahead of the competition. Polish your strengths and work on your weaknesses now and you’ll be set when it comes time to interview. 

Don’t forget that Ashford offers all students and alumni great resources to help with the job search through the Career and Alumni Services Department. You can contact Career Services at 866.974.5700 ext. 20057, or email [email protected] for career guidance, resume guidance, interview preparation, webinars, and much more. 

What’s more, this search for the most suitable major can give you great insight into why you need to take the ENG121 course. Some job descriptions will require “excellent writing skills,” while classes like COM200 will help nicely at the job interview because you’ll notice that some jobs will ask for “excellent verbal communication skills.”

Boost your Marketability with Certification Courses

In addition to the skills you’ll learn during your degree program, it’s always a great idea to see what additional resume-boosting skills are requested for your preferred career. There may also be updates that are happening in your industry or trends you should be aware of to make you competitive in the marketplace. You may find you need to add a certification course or two to your repertoire to land that position you’ve been working so hard to get, but ultimately you will be prepared to chase after that dream job.  

Although there are lots of bumps in the road to college graduation, it doesn’t mean that you need to make the same mistakes I did. Following these simple tips will get you headed in the right direction. 

In the meantime, hang tight to see what educational blunders I will bring to the table next so that you can learn from them and get one step closer to your graduation. 

Until next time, stay motivated!

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Written by Natalie Mell, Ashford University community manager 

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