My younger brother wanted to be an engineer. He knew it long before he entered college, and had a plan in place.
For some lucky people, that’s how it is. Others feel conflicted; they have interests and passions in one area but feel pressure to major in something more employable. Still others have little direction at all.
It’s a tough decision, made tougher by the sense we have that college is the stepping stone that will direct the course of our lives. If that’s the case, we reason, we have to do college right: take the right classes, learn from the right professors, be in the right campus organizations, find the right major. We don’t want to just drift into a field of study; we want to be intentional—and we want to be excited about it.
So if you’re one of the “undecideds,” just how do you pick a major? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Be attentive.
Pay attention in your classes. Immerse yourself in them and study hard. You never know when a subject that seemed boring in the past may spring to life for you.
Also remember that even in the classes you didn’t want to take but had to, there is always something to take from them. It could be a talented professor who provokes you to think in a new way. Or maybe the materials are more engaging than your high-school textbooks. Or maybe you learn one idea that’s new and interesting.
Whatever the class, look for those moments that stir something inside of you. You’ll have time for those other, “more exciting” classes later. Enjoy exercising the brain God gave you by focusing on the classes you’re taking right now.
2. Be curious.
Take classes in a variety of subjects. Most colleges offer very diverse classes, ones your high school would never have had. You’ll find classes with tantalizing titles like “Myth & Science Fiction: Star Wars, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings” (a literature class exploring epic storytelling), or “Music, Video Games, and the Nature of Human Cognition” (psychology). Don’t be afraid to explore some new terrain. Sometimes it may prove to be a mistake (I took Geometry in Culture during my undergrad tenure—not my greatest collegiate achievement), but you just might discover a new passion.
In addition, get to know the professors and TAs who are teaching you. Ask them questions, seek their counsel, and find out what excites them about the subjects they teach. They might point you in a new academic direction, tell you about a particular class you should think about taking, or call out a gift you have that you were unaware of.
3. Be part of a community.
Get involved. Join campus organizations (InterVarsity, for instance!). Volunteer in the community. Your interests outside the classroom often inform your decisions inside the classroom. You learn about yourself, the world around you, and how you want to spend your time.
You also make friends as you engage in activities. Talk to those friends. Talk to your InterVarsity staff worker. They will likely be able to see good things in you that you don’t see in yourself. And while no one can tell you what to major in, friends often help nurture your gifts.
4. Be prayerful.
Choosing your major is really a process of discernment. So spend time in prayer. Don’t expect an audible voice, though. Or a vision of your future self, gainfully employed in a particular profession. God can certainly knock you over the head with a 2x4 if he wants to, but more likely his direction will happen in whispers. The whispers you can only hear if you’re an active conversationalist with God.
5. Be passionate.
Don’t major in something just because you’ll be guaranteed a job right after graduation. There’s actually no such thing as a guaranteed job. And while some majors may make you a smidgen more “employable,” you might also just end up in a job that drains the life out of you. Even worse, you may be ignoring your gifts. Gifts that God gave you. Gifts that he wants you to use for his glory.
People in all fields of study actually do find jobs. It may take time, and it may be a circuitous path, but you’ll make it. I was an English major without any discernible plan post-college. It was unsettling, certainly. But I am now happily employed doing something I love.
So choose a major that’s life-affirming for you. To quote Frederick Buechner’s oft-repeated phrase, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Your major is not necessarily your vocation. In other words, what you study in school may not be a suitable career; it may just be the first step in a long journey of discovering what you will do with your life. But those first steps of the journey should be ones that you’re interested in taking.
And remember: It’s not just you.
If, after all of this, you still feel overwhelmed and discouraged, know that you are in good company: Most of us, long after we’ve left college, still struggle with what we want to be when we grow up (no matter what our major in college was). Even if we’re 30. Or 40. I have family members pushing 60 who are still figuring it out. And my brother, the one who knew he wanted to be an engineer? Well, he graduated and did that for a while, but then he decided to go back to school to become a lawyer.
No one is a finished product at 22. And furthermore, no matter what major we choose, our purpose is not to become a finished product, or to find a successful career or even a job that makes us happy. Our purpose is to humbly submit to God all areas of our life. When we do that, we can journey forward each day trusting in God’s goodness and enjoying each step along the way.