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Asking an 18-year-old to pin down a preferred career choice is not easy.

Sure, some teenagers know they want to go into business, law or medicine, and can easily choose a college major tailored specifically for a given vocation.

But if you don’t declare a major as a college freshman, don’t sweat it. A June 2012 study from Western Kentucky University reports that college freshman who don’t declare a major stand a better chance of graduating than freshmen who do choose a major (by a 83.4 percent to 72.8 percent margin).

Here are the facts—and a few tips—on how to choose a college major.

What’s your passion? Picking the right area of study means taking some serious self-inventory. So sit down at your computer, or take a pen and paper, and make a list of the following questions—then answer them:

  • What are my strengths?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What’s more important? Money or self-fulfillment?
  • How much of a commitment am I willing to make while I am at school?
  • What do people I trust think I should choose as my major?

Research. Read about areas of study on college websites. There’s practically a major for everything out there—and some colleges even allow you to create your own! Just knowing your options provides you with powerful information.
“Figuring out what major works best for you isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon.”

Know what you’re getting into. Most college degree programs are divided into basic educational requirements, with established numbers of classes, credits and electives. The most popular majors include business, education, communications, journalism, engineering, and those in the areas of law, medicine, technology, and science.

Take a close look at the courses that are required for a major (this information is available on many college websites). If you are interested in all or most of the classes, that’s a good sign that this could be the major for you. If, on the other hand, most of the classes make you cringe, then move on to another subject.

Take your time—if you need to. By and large, you don’t have to formally declare a major until the beginning of your junior year at college. So you can use the first two years on campus to take different classes, talk to professors and other students, and find the right major for you.

Get help. Go to your school counselor or career center if your school has one and ask what kind of career resources the school provides for you; talk to a teacher, mentor or a supportive adult about your research.

College Resources to Tap

Once you’re in college, continue the quest. Every good college has a career resources center that you can (and should) use to narrow the field when it comes to a major. Advice and help is out there, right on campus. Take advantage of it.

Sit in on a class. If you’re considering, say, computer science as a major, go ahead and sit in on a class or two and see if it’s for you. There’s no better way of knowing if a given major is right for you than classroom work that targets a specific field of study.

Socialize. Most college academic departments regularly hold seminars, parties, career days, and other opportunities where you can talk to graduates, professors and students who are immersed in a particular field. Take full advantage of such events, and listen to as many “experts” as possible.

Figuring out what major works best for you isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Take your time, kick some tires, ask around, and, sooner or later, you’ll find the major that will kick-start your career.

Books for Research

Book of Majors (by College Board)

College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs (by Fogg, Harrington, Harrington, and Shatkin)