How To Pick a College Without Knowing Your Major

by St.Martin's College Counseling


Q: How do I pick a school without knowing what I want to major in?

[Source: 10th grade questionnaires]

Deciding where to go to college does depend in part on what you want to major in. If you want to be an engineer, go to a school that offers engineering. But, if you’re like most students, you either don’t know or you’ll change your mind. So basing a college decision primarily on major may not be the best (or even a good) idea.

The objective for college is unique to each individual, but I’ll just go ahead and assume that most of you want some sort of career when you graduate. And unless you want to become a doctor, or pursue other sciences or health related careers, you can gain at least half of the top 10 most desirable skills for employment in almost any major.

With predictions that 40% of America’s workforce will be Freelancers by 2020 and that US job growth is mainly in the service sectors, it’s more important to focus on schools where you can gain skills that will help you be successful, rather than focus on one particular area of study. Not to mention that when you graduate, you’ll probably be applying for jobs that don’t even exist today.

MVP College MajorsCareerSatisfaction

What should you focus on instead? In no particular order:

1. Location – Though seemingly superficial, the location of the school you choose does matter. You can’t necessarily determine where you’ll be happiest by a visit or by looking at statistics. Your best chance at success is feeling by feeling good in your environment – and that can be affected by factors such as temperature, sunlight, rainfall, distance from family,  proximity to city life or proximity to nature, and cost of living.

2. Size – Do you want to be anonymous or do you want everyone to know your name? The size of the school can also determine the number of opportunities available – often, the larger the school the greater diversity in ideas and interests. In large schools you may have more chances to redefine yourself and your goals, but fewer professors or advisers to mentor you.

3. Peer group – What kind of people go to different schools? One of the most important reasons to choose a school is to define your peers. Do you want to be surrounded by highly motivated people who look at you funny if you aren’t working on interesting projects and aren’t working towards professional goals? Or would you rather be in an environment that is less competitive and more social. Choosing a college is choosing your peer group – and your peer group can often be a major factor in your own success.

4. Opportunities outside of coursework – Regardless of whether you are interested in a more rural or more urban school environment, there are always things to do besides your classes. The more opportunities you have to pursue in your areas of interest, the quicker you’ll decide what you like, what you don’t, and what your strengths are.

5. Strength of alumni networks – Some schools have very weak alumni networks and their graduates still find jobs and satisfying careers. But if you’re looking for how to determine if graduates are happy and successful, the alumni networks are the best place to start. And it doesn’t hurt that keeping alumni connections strong can lead to future employment or relationships.

6. Educational assistance/career services – If you really don’t know what you want to do, you want to find a place that has services to help with this. Some schools are better than others, and this is a great item to keep on your list.

7. Cost – What can you afford? What will you need to take out in loans? How long will it take to pay off the loans – and what kind of salary will you need to pay it off in 10 years? Can you get a scholarship? Is the school need-blind? No matter where you go, it is important to have a financial plan in place while deciding where to apply.