As you near the end of high school and face the college application journey, selecting a major might be high on your list of concerns. It's understandable if you're grappling with anxieties - pondering over future job opportunities in the current economic climate, balancing those concerns with your academic passions, and maybe even doubting if you have a definitive interest in a particular field. However, it's essential to know that your choice of major doesn't rigidly set your career path. So, take a deep breath and continue reading. We'll delve into several crucial aspects to help guide your decision-making process for choosing a college major.

What to Consider When Deciding on Your Major

Which subjects do you like to learn about? 

Over the next four years, your college major will influence many of the classes you take, so it's crucial to enjoy your subject! Reflect on your most engaging school courses. What aspects appealed to you, or what didn't resonate? There might be topics you're intrigued by but haven't delved into yet. Take advantage of any opportunities you have to study these interests through your high school – and consider enrolling in advanced or introductory college-level courses if they're accessible to you.

Even if classes in these interest areas aren’t available at your high school, you can still explore new subjects by reading a book, taking an online course, seeing if your local community college has any courses high school students can attend, or taking on a Polygence research or passion project in that area.

Conducting research or pursuing a passion project in high school is a great way to discover your “why”!

Create a research project tailored to your interests and your schedule

Polygence pairs you with an expert mentor in your area of passion. Together, you work to create a high quality research project that is uniquely your own. We also offer options to explore multiple topics, or to showcase your final product!

Student exploring their passions

Archie’s high school ambition: When I was in high school, the dream of becoming a doctor was crystal clear in my mind. Thus, I knew I had to major in something related to biology or medicine. My academic preferences were also inclined towards chemistry and engineering. Merging these interests with my goal of attending medical school felt like a complex puzzle.

Upon discussing this dilemma with an older friend who was already in college, I was introduced to Biomedical Engineering (BME). This major resonated with my aspirations. It blended the intricacies of biology, chemistry, and medicine with the foundational principles of engineering. Additionally, since there is a lot of overlap between BME and medicine, it is easy to add a pre-medicine focus with just a couple of extra courses on anatomy, biochemistry, etc. to prepare for medical school. The more I delved into the specifics of BME, the more I felt a magnetic pull towards it. As a result, when application season dawned, I exclusively targeted schools that offered a Biomedical Engineering major with a pre-medicine focus.

Learn more about why passion is important for success in work and life

What are the major requirements like? 

Another critical aspect when choosing a college major is understanding its intensity, which manifests in various ways:

  • First and foremost, the inherent difficulty of the coursework matters.

  • Secondly, the overall volume of courses required for the major can be a determinant.

  • A third aspect to weigh is the number of prerequisite courses tied to your major. These prerequisite courses might feel like a detour before diving into your core interests. However, depending on the institution and the specific major, you might actually find them engaging. It's worth noting that some students may spend more time on prerequisites than their peers in other majors.

Moreover, your chosen major can significantly impact your work/life balance during college years. Everyone has their unique equilibrium when it comes to balancing academics, extracurricular activities, and leisure. While some thrive on diving deep into textbooks even on Friday nights, others prioritize setting aside weekends for passionate engagement in student clubs or organizations. There's no one-size-fits-all approach; it's all about what suits you best. Always remember, you're the best judge of what works for you.

Logan’s “major” switch: Initially, I entered college with a major in computer science. However, by my sophomore year, I began to feel the burnout from the continuous stream of computer science courses. Despite my ongoing love for computer science, I sensed the need for a broader academic horizon. My answer lay in an interdisciplinary major, Symbolic Systems (or "SymSys"). This exceptional major melds the realms of computer science, psychology, linguistics, and philosophy. Its inherent flexibility ensured that the majority of my courses from my freshman and sophomore years seamlessly fit into the new major, ensuring that I remained on track for my graduation. My shift wasn't merely a change in majors; I moved from the School of Engineering to the School of Humanities and Sciences. Fortunately, this transition didn't require me to go through any rigorous application processes.

How transferable is the coursework for your major? 

The malleability of coursework in relation to college major requirements can be a significant consideration for students. Programs like Symbolic Systems at Stanford exemplify flexibility; while they have requisite courses, they often offer a range of options within each requirement. As students delve deeper into their specialized concentrations, the array of course choices can expand even further. Crafting a coherent academic narrative becomes essential, selecting courses that consistently reflect one's focus during college.

It's crucial to acknowledge that even with thorough pre-college planning, there might be a realization down the line urging a change in major. Considering the transferability of coursework becomes essential in such cases. When students take classes that are relevant to multiple majors they're considering, it can provide an advantage. For instance, if undecided between two majors, one can choose courses that cater to both, ensuring smooth transitions if a switch becomes desirable.

Furthermore, while exploring colleges, it's important to understand the intricacies involved in changing majors. Some institutions might have a straightforward process, while others could necessitate applications, especially when transitioning between different schools within the university. It's recommended that prospective students investigate the ease or challenges associated with switching majors at their desired colleges. This can include understanding application requirements, acceptance rates, or even simply learning about other students' experiences.

Archie’s college journey: while the decision to major in Biomedical Engineering (BME) was initially driven by an aspiration to attend medical school, the winds of fate had other plans. During my college years, I delved deep into research and fell head over heels in love with it. The realm of research intrigued me with its open-ended problems – the kind not found in textbooks or lecture notes. It was invigorating to build from scratch, to devise innovative solutions to uncharted challenges, and to venture beyond the traditional academic path.

I owe a significant part of my adaptability and aptitude in research to the comprehensive curriculum of the Biomedical Engineering major. It equipped me to navigate the intricate waters of complex research problems with ease. By my senior year, the allure of pushing the boundaries of knowledge and pioneering solutions drove me to commit to a PhD program.

A common misconception I've often heard is that a Biomedical Engineer is a "jack of all trades but master of none." To this, I firmly attest: it's a myth. The vastness of topics covered as a BME not only fortified my foundation but also made me a versatile communicator. Whether discussing an intricate engineering problem, consulting with a physician, or brainstorming with a pharmaceutical scientist, my training enabled me to serve as a bridge between varied professionals. In my perspective, biomedical engineers aren't just generalists; they're connectors. They possess the unique capability to unify multifaceted teams, acting as the cohesive glue in diverse organizations.

What types of jobs can you get with your major? 

Consider the potential career paths you might take after obtaining your degree. Ideally, we'd all choose subjects purely out of interest, setting aside concerns about future employment. The truth is, many majors can lead to a variety of job opportunities. I've seen physicists transition to investment banking, literature graduates delve into management consulting, and history aficionados turn into entrepreneurs. It's worthwhile to explore the diverse career paths that those in your prospective major have taken; the options might surprise you.

The Polygence Pathfinders Program

Pathfinders is a career discovery mentorship experience designed to help you explore different career paths and gain more clarity about your future. Learn from three world class mentors in the fields of your choice and discover your passions!

If you're uncertain about how your chosen major aligns with your career aspirations, there are alternatives to consider. One approach is to pursue a double major, combining a subject you're passionate about with another that also interests you. However, balancing two majors can be intense, depending on the subjects. An alternative might be a major-minor combination or even pursuing a major with two minors, which could be more feasible.

If you do have a clear career goal, reverse engineer the process. Research the common academic backgrounds of professionals in that field. For instance, aspiring medical students typically follow a set of courses, leading many to choose similar majors. However, some might opt for non-traditional paths, demonstrating the versatility of academic choices.

Archie's life after school:
After securing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, my career trajectory has been anything but linear. My postdoctoral journey commenced at the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital, where I delved into the intricate world of medical imaging. However, the dynamic nature of science and the allure of diverse research areas drew me to a role as a research scientist, more in line with a traditional biostatistician, within the Department of Anesthesiology.

Soon, a new opportunity beckoned, marking my entry into the corporate world and the realm of medical device development. At Johnson & Johnson, I transitioned into the role of a senior design engineer in the Front-End Innovation group. This position not only honed my technical engineering design skills but also broadened my horizon regarding the commercial aspects of biomedical solutions. Most recently, I've embraced the world of data, assuming the role of a senior data manager in Scientific Affairs, immersing myself in data science and analytics.

While my background in Biomedical Engineering gave me an intricate understanding of biomaterials, biomechanics, medical imaging, AI, and machine learning, it wasn’t the technical details that proved most beneficial in the long run. The most valuable takeaway from my educational journey was the meta-learning. College and graduate school equipped me with the skills not to merely absorb knowledge but to identify gaps in understanding, source the requisite information, and truly master it.

This is why I think Polygence is such a great option for high school students. The critical learning skills gained from hands on research were paramount to my academic success and satisfaction. By completing a passion project with a research mentor’s guidance and support before going to college, you’re able to develop these valuable skills even sooner.

Work with an expert mentor to explore your passion

At Polygence, we precisely match you with a mentor in your area of interest. Together, you can explore and deepen your passions.

Student standing on large books with graduation hat

Choosing a college major is not only about passion or career prospects but can also be influenced by trends in the job market and society at large. Over the years, some majors have stood out in terms of popularity either due to the diverse job opportunities they offer, societal demands, or technological advancements. Here's a look at some of the most popular college majors and ways for high schoolers to explore them further:

Business Administration and Management

This versatile degree offers a broad understanding of business concepts, making graduates fit for a myriad of roles, from marketing to human resources to entrepreneurship.

Resources

Nursing

With the constant demand for healthcare professionals, nursing remains a popular choice. This major prepares students for various roles in the healthcare industry and offers steady job security.

Resources

Computer Science and Information Technology

As the world continues its digital evolution, computer science majors are more in demand than ever. This major offers opportunities in areas like software development, data analysis, and cybersecurity.

Resources

Psychology

This major appeals to those curious about human behavior and thought processes. College graduates who majored in psychology can pursue roles in counseling, research, human resources, and more.

Resources

Biology

A foundation for many professions in the healthcare sector, biology is a preferred major for those looking to enter fields like medicine, research, or environmental science.

Resources

Engineering

With various specializations including civil, mechanical, biomedical, and computer engineering, this field promises innovation and is driven by the continuous growth of technology and infrastructure.

Resources

Communications

In an age of information and connectivity, communications majors can find roles in media, public relations, digital marketing, and more.

Related Polygence student projects and accomplishments

Education

Preparing students for roles in teaching and administration, this major remains vital as education is a cornerstone of society.

Related Polygence student projects

Economics

Understanding the forces that drive markets and economies is critical, making economics a popular choice for those interested in roles in finance, policy-making, or research.

Resources

Political Science

For those interested in governance, public policy, and international relations, political science is a sought-after major.

Related Polygence student projects

The Perfect College Major…For YOU

While some majors are more popular than others, it's essential to remember that the best major for you is the one that aligns with your personal interests, career aspirations, and strengths. Choosing a college major based solely on its popularity might not guarantee satisfaction or success, so it's crucial to balance trending demands with personal passion and aptitude.

At the heart of it, the decision of what to major in is deeply personal and based on your consideration of various factors. It's natural to feel pressure, especially when making such an impactful choice at a young age, perhaps around 15 to 18. However, it's essential to remember that it's okay not to have everything mapped out at this stage. Life has a way of taking unexpected turns; the journey and your ability to adapt along the way  often matter more than the starting point. Whichever path you choose, embrace it with confidence and know that you're capable of navigating the challenges ahead. Best of luck!

Want to start a project of your own?

Click below to get matched with one of our expert mentors who can help take your project off the ground!

Student working on a rocket ship