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How (Not) to Choose a College Major

Laura 3 months ago 9 comments

Whatever your personality type, choosing a college major can be a daunting task. Should you follow your bliss and pursue a major that excites you? Should you trust the more conventional advice to stick with something that offers good employment prospects? Or maybe you should just pick a major out of a hat and go with it?

These are questions that only you can answer – well, maybe except for that last one.

Although we at 16Personalities would love to put together a list of the best majors for each personality type, the solution isn’t quite that simple. You probably know someone whose major doesn’t seem to fit their personality, and yet they love it. And you probably know someone who’s completely miserable even though they made a decision that seemed to match their type perfectly.

While we can’t tell you which major to choose, we can give you some tips on how to use your personality traits to your advantage as you make this decision. With that in mind, here’s our best advice for choosing a college major.

If You’re an Introvert…

You might be tempted to: Figure this out on your own.

As an Introvert, when it comes to choosing a major, it’s important that you consult your own thoughts and feelings. If you know what you want, great! But if you find yourself riding a merry-go-round of indecision, you may need to look to others for advice.

Do this instead: Email one question.

Informational interviews might be the gold standard for learning about different fields and careers, but they’re not always easy for Introverted personalities. If you’re too intimidated to set up an in-person meeting or even a phone call with someone, start by emailing them one question about their work or their education. Try to make the question slightly unexpected but very specific – that way, they’re more likely to reply.

And who knows? Maybe the email conversation will go so well that you’ll feel ready to set up a phone call or meeting.

If You’re an Extravert…

You might be tempted to: Look to others.

Suppose you meet a group of engineering students and you really don’t click with them. Does that mean you shouldn’t study engineering? Well, not necessarily, just as it wouldn’t mean you should study engineering if you did like them. When possible, try not to form an opinion of a field based on just a few personalities you meet early on.

Do this instead: Organize an event.

Few students realize how many opportunities they have to organize official (or unofficial) events during college. If a subject interests you, ask a dean or department chair if the school could bring in someone to give a lecture on that topic. Other ideas include putting together a panel, booking an author or public figure to give a talk, or even something as simple as hosting a student discussion group.

You might be surprised by how much support you get from your school, and the experience of helping to put together such an event might help you gauge just how interested you’d be in pursuing a major in the subject.

If You’re Intuitive…

You might be tempted to: Do some more thinking about it.

What would your life look like if you majored in English, or economics, or environmental studies? If you’re an Intuitive personality type, chances are that you often find yourself imagining different scenarios. But unless you take action and collect evidence, your thought exercises – however brilliant – might not represent reality.

Do this instead: Give it a try.

As an Intuitive type, you’re probably drawn to learning about different topics. So why not find ways to give potential majors a trial run? Look for opportunities to exercise creativity and independence. For example, see if you can set up an independent study course with a particular department, or ask professors if they can recommend internship opportunities or research assistant positions that you could take on in conjunction with your studies.

If You’re Observant…

You might be tempted to: Keep it practical.

What’s wrong with practical, you ask? Absolutely nothing – as long as you derive at least some fulfillment along the way. But if you feel bored, tired, or stressed just thinking about a particular major, it might not be the one for you – even if it offers great job prospects down the line.

Do this instead: Ask the magic question.

Think of three adults you admire who have college degrees, and ask them this question: “What was your major, and how do you feel now about that choice?” You may be surprised to learn that they’re doing something completely different from what they studied in school, or that they wish they’d worried less about making the “right” decision. When you’re in college, it may seem as if the major you choose determines the rest of your life, but for many people, that isn’t the case.

If You’re a Feeling Type…

You might be tempted to: Make everyone happy.

Your mom wants you to be a doctor, your dad wants you to be a physicist, and your little sister thinks you should swim with dolphins. Throw in some strong opinions from professors and friends, and you’ll quickly find that you can’t please everyone. As someone with a Feeling personality type, you might wish you could make everyone happy, but it’s just not possible.

Do this instead: Find electives you love.

In your early years of college, you may find yourself in intro-level courses that don’t make your heart sing. So, as soon as you’re able to choose your electives, throw your might into finding ones that you love! Ask professors about opportunities to set up independent studies, modify coursework, or even get accepted into graduate-level courses.

That way, whether or not your choice of major ends up pleasing the people in your life, you can feel confident that you’re creating rewarding, fulfilling academic experiences.

If You’re a Thinking Type…

You might be tempted to: See your education as a means to an end.

Yes, certain majors tend to command higher salaries than others, and it can certainly be worthwhile to consult that data as you make your decision. But remember that a college major isn’t just a ticket that you stamp on your way to a career. Tune in to whether a given field actually excites you. If it doesn’t, you may need to reconsider whether you’d really want to dedicate your academic and/or professional life to it.

Do this instead: Research alternatives.

Suppose you want to be a clinical psychologist. You familiarize yourself with the degree requirements, and it seems that majoring in psychology is the most rational thing to do. But take time to talk to professors and peers about alternatives before you make your decision. Could you do the required coursework while majoring in something else? Are there gap-year options or research opportunities you might pursue? As you gather more information, you might be surprised by the unexpected opportunities you uncover.

If You’re a Judging Type…

You might be tempted to: Think you’ve got it all figured out.

Let’s say you know exactly where you want to be in five or ten years. Sure, other people might stray from their life plans, but you’re a Judging personality, so that would never be you, right? With this line of thinking, it’s easy to march directly ahead to a life that isn’t all that fulfilling. It’s awesome to have clear ambitions, but make sure you check in with yourself to see whether your goals have changed.

Do this instead: Interview people who’ve changed course.

Here’s a mission for you: Talk with at least one person who’s made a radical career change. Maybe you know someone who became a doctor in midlife, or left their corporate job to start a nonprofit, or dropped out of law school to become a wildlife photographer. Set up a time to chat with this person about their experiences, focusing on how and why they made this big change.

These stories tend to be fascinating, and hearing them may just reassure you that, in the event that you end up with a major or career that doesn’t work out, it’s never too late to change direction.

If You’re a Prospecting Type…

You might be tempted to: Assume that the “right” major won’t feel like work.

Ever heard that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration? Well, that can be the case in college too. A major that’s a great fit for you might still entail coursework that feels difficult or frustrating. In other words, don’t give up as soon as your sense of inspiration lags.

Do this instead: Find a faculty mentor.

Once you connect with a professor you respect, see if that person could become a mentor to you. Go to their office hours, ask them if they need a research assistant, or see if they can advise you on an independent project. That way, when the going gets tough, you can get support and perspective from someone who knows the ropes – rather than fret that you need to find a different major.

If You’re Assertive…

You might be tempted to: Tell everyone they’re way overthinking this.

If you’re Assertive, then you might feel as if you have this whole choosing-a-major thing on lock. And even if you don’t, you probably trust yourself to come to the right decision somehow. Frankly, that’s awesome. But if your friends have a more difficult time with this process, it’s probably best not to tell them, “Everything will be fine! I don’t know what you’re so worried about!”

Do this instead: Listen, listen, listen.

Let’s get meta for a moment. Imagine that you’ve been asked to write an article about how to choose a college major. Your goal is to help you and your friends feel confident and excited about the process. To write this article, who would you interview? What research would you conduct? What conversations would you want to have?

Now: Talk to those people, do that research, and have those conversations. Bonus points if you actually write something and put it out into the world.

If You’re Turbulent…

You might be tempted to: Second-guess yourself.

Are you on the right track? What if you’re not? What if everything you’ve ever done is totally, irredeemably wrong?

If you’re Turbulent, these worries might sound familiar to you. It’s good to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, but if you constantly second-guess yourself and your major, you risk sucking all the pleasure out of your academic experience.

Do this instead: Get inspired.

As someone with a Turbulent personality type, chances are that you worry about making the wrong decisions in your life. But the good news is that few people (if any) do anything perfectly – and that includes the people you look up to the most. Read a biography or watch a biopic about someone who inspires you. Pay special attention to the mistakes they made – and how they moved forward regardless. This experience might help you put less pressure on yourself to choose the “perfect” major.

Before You Choose a Major…

Your personality type is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to choosing a college major. For example, our research shows that 68% of Feeling types prefer the humanities to science or math, compared to 50% of Thinking types.

You might read that and think, “Okay, so Feeling types like art and Thinking types gravitate toward STEM fields.” Still, this data shows that nearly a third of Feeling types prefer math and science and half of Thinking types prefer the arts. So, even if you’re a Feeling type, you might find your life’s work in the chemistry lab, and even if you’re a Thinking type, a theater degree might be what inspires your best work.

In light of all this, here’s our final tip: Before you decide on a major, be sure to look beyond the seemingly “obvious” choices for your personality type. You might just be surprised by what you find.

So, dear reader: Are you in the process of choosing a college major? If you’ve already chosen one, how do you feel about your decision? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

Further Reading

Humanities vs. STEM: Personality Types Weigh In on an Age-Old Debate

Is Formal Education Overrated?

Equating Education with Self-Worth

What Does a Genius Look Like?

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