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It can feel like the moment your student chooses a college, the question “Where are you going to school?” gets replaced by “What are you going to study?”

If your kid is not really sure yet what she wants to be when she grows up–don’t worry. She’s in great company. Most people change not only majors, but entire fields and careers multiple times, and very few do anything directly related to what they studied in college.

The future of work is shifting. With the unprecedented pace of technology, we do not know what the jobs of the future are going to look like, whether they will be performed by machines or humans, nor what skills will be required to fulfill them. Although it seems counter-intuitive, this reality should come as a huge relief to your student. He has more cause than ever to focus inward and let passions, self-knowledge, and interests drive this decision. Whereas in the past, earning potential was closely tied to domain expertise, going forward a premium will be placed on the ability to learn itself, and all learning begins with self-knowledge. Here are a few practical tips you can share with your student to guide the process:

“Take your time.” Few colleges require you to declare a major in your first year. General education requirements are a great way to get exposure to multiple academic departments and see what subjects are most engaging. Take some time to experiment with some elective classes. Even if you do choose something that first year, you have plenty of time to change your mind. Just make sure to meet with an academic advisor to understand how to stay on track.

“Treat every experience like a learning experience.” Learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom. College also widens your exposure through relationships, alumni networks, student activities, jobs, internships, and leadership opportunities. Adopting a learning mindset will help make the most of these experiences. Pay special attention to clubs, hobbies, conversations, classes, projects, or assignments where you feel a sense of “flow,” or the nexus of interesting content, working in your strengths, and being so engaged you may lose track of time. It’s also important to notice which tasks you loathe!  This will help narrow your interests.

 “Talk to people.” Peers, parents, professors, and professionals can be great sounding boards. Your friends will know what you’re going through–they’re trying to figure out what to study, too!  You may benefit from their approaches, connections, and feedback. Having known you your whole life, parents can help you remember some of the lasting talents and interests you’ve had since childhood, help you think through practical concerns, and want the best for you. However, be careful not to fall into a parent-pleasing trap–you need to focus on what YOU want to do, rather than a specific career your parents envisioned for you.

Professors can help you understand your aptitude in their fields of study and make introductions to former students or practitioners who could give you real-world insight. Finally, seek out professionals in career services as early as your freshman year. Many of them have coaching backgrounds and expertise in identifying talent, administering inventories, aligning majors to your strengths, and providing practical guidance about how to take the first step into a meaningful career.

 “Engage in honest reflection.” Now is not the time to pick a major because it is easy, or because everyone in your peer group does it. When you think about choosing a major, ask yourself questions, and tell yourself the truth. Am I genuinely curious and excited about this major? What skills or concepts do I hope I will learn or master at the end of my studies? What opportunities do I need to seek out to help me apply what I’m learning? Will this major lead to a career that provides for my financial needs? Can I envision myself in a future career related to this major?

Choosing a major is the first step towards designing a life that is fully your own. If your student spends the first year focused on staying present to their educational experiences in and outside the classroom, they’re bound to learn about themselves and what they want in the process.


Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz is a higher education professional with over a decade of experience. She oversaw undergraduate admissions at Pepperdine University and completed doctoral coursework at Azusa Pacific University. Her career has focused on counseling students, parents, colleges, and enterprise companies on admissions, financial aid, technology, talent, and workforce development. Visit Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz's profile.