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Parents: How to Help Your Child Choose a College Major



Every parent wants their child to succeed, especially when it comes to college admissions. For many parents, the college admissions process is the first time your student will be making major life decisions on their own, and these decisions will probably have huge consequences for your child’s future. One such decision is choosing a college major.


When your student applies to college, they’ll have the option to apply with the intention to take on a specific major at the institution in question. While it is not required that your child has chosen their major by the time they apply to or attend college, you’d be surprised how much simpler the college process becomes if your student has an idea of what major they might want to pursue.


As a parent, why is it important for your child to choose a major early on in the college admissions process? How can you help your child make this important decision? What if, even after your guidance, your child still can’t choose? For the answers to all of these questions and more, read on.


When Should Your Child Be Thinking About Their Major? 


Each college/university has a different policy on this, but most students don’t officially declare a major until a year or two into their college career. However, we at CollegeVine strongly recommend that your student narrow down their major well before that, even as they’re forming their college list before they start applying. Why so soon?


Firstly, if your student has an idea early on of what they want to study, they can use their remaining time in high school to build a competitive academic and extracurricular profile for that major. For example, if your student knows they want to study Computer Science, they should enroll in those technical courses, enter some robotics competitions or hackathons, and join computer-science-related extracurriculars. The sooner they decide on what they want to study in college, the more time they have to prepare.


Secondly, if your student knows their major, this could actually help them narrow down their college list and guide their college research. With a major in mind, your child will know to apply to only those colleges that have solid, reputable academic programs for that major. Major specific college searches are much simpler and can often deliver a healthy spread of general academic rankings while maintaining high major ranking throughout.


If your child doesn’t know what major they want to pursue before they apply to college, that’s okay too. However, as a parent, you should encourage them to try and figure it out before the end of their first year. It’s imperative to narrow it down once your student starts college because, until they have decided on a major, they can’t move forward in fulfilling all of the course requirements needed for them to graduate on time. For this reason, the sooner they know what they want to study, the better.


Strategies To Help Your Child Pick A Major


Okay, so picking a major sooner rather than later is important, but how can parents help their child make that important decision? This is tricky because you want to give your student the necessary guidance and direction, but you don’t want to be overbearing to the point of telling your child what they should study.


Thankfully, we at CollegeVine have worked with many parents and students to narrow down a college major. Here are some of our best tips for helping your child choose a major:


  • Consider Their Current Interests: You and your student should both take a moment to sit down and think about the extracurriculars, hobbies, and academic subjects that your student excels in. You may notice a pattern in these activities that indicates your student’s desire to focus on a particular subject. For example, if your student is involved in Mock Trial, Model UN, Speech and Debate, and tends to like Communications and liberal arts classes, you may have an aspiring Political Science major on your hands. Of course, most students’ academic and extracurricular profiles aren’t that cut and dry, so you’ll need to chat with your student about which activities and classes they seem the most drawn to. That should help you narrow it down at least a little.


  • Choose Electives that Explore Different Interests: If your child is truly clueless as to what direction they want their college education to take them, you can encourage them to broaden their horizons by trying a bunch of potential subjects that may interest them. This can mean signing up for some unique electives in various subjects or joining various clubs to see which ones they like best. Either way, your child will likely gain a better understanding of what subjects they tend to gravitate towards, and they’ll be rewarded varied and interesting experiences in the process.


  • Sit In On College Classes: If the goal is to figure out what to study in college, then what better solution than testing the water in a college setting! Indeed, if you and your student have the ability and the time, drive up to your local college campus and have your student sit in on a couple of classes. This will let them get a feel for the kind of concepts that they would be learning and whether their interests would run parallel to those potential futures. Of course, there are pitfalls to this strategy. It may be hard to make it all the way up to a college campus, and it’s even harder to find a schedule of classes to choose from. Your student will also need to look into gaining permission from the professor to sit in on the class in question. Finally, college courses are difficult and often require a lot of study prior to class. Without proper preparation, such an experience could actually throw your student of the scent of their perfect major.


  • Shadow/Talk To Someone In A Related Profession: If your child has a vague idea of what they might want to study, you can help them narrow it down by getting them in touch with someone in a career related to that field of study. For example, if your child thinks they may want to pursue the sciences, try and get them to shadow a doctor or a lab technician. This will require reaching out to friends and family to establish connections. Your student will need to reach out as well. However, getting that one-on-one time with someone who has gone down the path your child is considering could be critical in helping your child decide if this is the right choice for them.


What If Your Student Still Can’t Choose?


If, despite you and your student’s best efforts, they are unable to decide on a major by the time applications roll around, that is okay. They can always apply to and enter college as an undeclared major. All this means is that they will need to spend a few semesters taking diverse introductory classes to try and narrow down what they want to do. While this may not be the most efficient way for them to finish their degree, they will have the time they need to make an educated choice while in college.


Also, it’s important to note that the major your child determines in high school may not represent a static and final choice. Your student will most likely to be able to–and in fact, most college students do–change their major during college. It’s incredibly common. So you can rest assured that there is time before your child will need to make an absolute decision.


Finally, if switching majors isn’t an option, your child can also decide to pursue a double major or a minor in a subject they end up being very passionate about. Most institutions make it so that, with some careful planning and some dedicated study, students who pursue double majors and minors can still graduate in four years.


Thus, while we recommend that your child try to choose a college major as soon as possible, it is not the end of the world if they don’t. In fact, in our experience, many students end up changing their degree plan once they enter college anyway.


For More Information


Does your child need some guidance in choosing their major? Perhaps these blog posts can help:


How To Pick A College As An Undecided Major

Why You Should Check Out A College’s Top Majors

Deciding Between a Liberal Arts and Professional Majors

Choosing A Major For Your College Application


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!