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When Should I Choose a Major?

Deciding on a major can feel like choosing between the red pill and the blue pill in "The Matrix"

Our answer: the sooner the better.

The popular advice given to students is that “It doesn’t matter. You can major in whatever field you want. Just go to college and explore, and eventually decide on a major that you’re happy with.” Or to use a buzzword, “Choose a major that you’re ‘passionate’ about.”

That is terrible advice, if the goal is to have a financially secure career.

Always work backwards, not the other way around

In business, every company initiative has an objective. The success of the project is measured by whether or not it achieves its objective.

For example, one of the things Google is famous for are the nap pods they provide their employees with. When evaluating if that was money well-spent, you can bet that their management looked at whether or not that has allowed employees to work more productively and if that has led to increased profits for the company.

In professional sports, the objective is to win games and attract fans who will come and spend money. When a team is deciding whether or not to recruit a certain player, it is with that objective in mind.

When a book club decides to market on Facebook, they evaluate whether or not those efforts led to increased participation in their organization.

Similarly, in your life, every critical decision you make (choosing what type of postsecondary training/education to pursue, applying to college, college planning, what to major in, etc.) ought to be guided by what your end goal is. Work backwards from there, not the other way around.

If you already know your long term goal, then that is already telling you how to plan out your next few steps. If you don’t have a long term goal, then that is a problem – you’re just floating around aimlessly in the middle of the ocean.

Importance of getting a positive return is greater than ever due to soaring costs of college

Many students’ next step after high school is a four year university. It now costs so much to get a degree that it is even more important than ever to have a strong idea what type of career you want and can attain with that degree. A university degree no longer guarantees a well-paying corporate job.

It’s not financially responsible to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a college education without first knowing how that degree will help provide you with earning power later on.

Think of it this way: you can get on the wrong train and still eventually make your way to your final destination. But it’s a lot better to just know the routes and get on the right train in the beginning (especially since you’re getting charged for each leg of the trip).

Ignoring ROI when making this decision is costly

Your long term goal will inform where you go and what you study. Blindly choosing a college and blindly choosing an area of study based on how you “feel” will cost you an extraordinary amount of cash.

In the eyes of prospective employers, not all colleges are equal. Not all degrees (even within the same university) are equal. Whether or not that’s “fair” or “moral” is irrelevant. If you’re looking to jumpstart your career, that’s the current reality, so the productive path forward is to learn to navigate it.

Have an idea what your final destination is and work backwards

All that said, you don’t need to know your long term plans down to every last detail (e.g. corporate counsel at a late stage B2B tech startup in the US), but you should try to decide on at least a general direction (e.g. banking vs. healthcare) as early as possible.

Once you know your goal, your next steps – including your major – should be clear. Since you should already have a long term goal, then what you should major in should already be clear.

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