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Committing to a Major

Many students apply for college not knowing what they want to pursue as a career, and many feel pressure to decide on a major early on. If selecting a focus has you stressed out, relax. You do have some time to explore.

Most students don't need to select a major until well into their sophomore year of college. You can investigate your options before deciding on a focus of study. (And if you change your mind later on, you're hardly alone: 80 percent of college students will change their major at least once.)

"Most people are unsure when they're starting out," Nathan Gebhard wrote in the New York Times in July 2015. "Where they end up isn't a direct result of their major; it's the result of a meandering process."

That said, there are definite advantages to coming up with a plan sooner rather than later.

"A student with a plan is more likely to get to the ultimate goal in the most efficient manner," says Mark Boggie. He is the assistant dean of student services at Cochise College in Arizona. "Students who set a goal, have a plan and work to meet that goal will be more successful in completion."

Boggie points out that choosing a path early can help you avoid paying for (and setting aside time for) classes that won't help you complete your degree.

"In the case of financial aid, recent regulations have pushed students to be more efficient in course taking and in some cases NO extra classes can be paid for by Pell Grants or student loans," says Boggie. "This restrictive environment places pressure on students and their advisors to ensure the student can complete in the specified credits/semesters before the aid is discontinued."

You may also feel pressure from colleges (they want to increase the number of students who complete degrees) or from your family (who may want to get you through college and into the workforce as quickly as possible). But don't panic if you don't know exactly where you want to be in 20 years.

"In my personal career trajectory, I did not find my niche... until well into a 30-year education career," says Boggie. After 12 years in teaching, he decided to get his master's degree in educational counseling - and thereby discovered his true passion.

Regardless of whether you have a definite goal or whether you plan to explore some options, keep in mind that your education will not end when you get your degree.

"Lifelong learning is truly the environment we live in today," says Boggie. "Even 'terminal degrees' are no longer the end of learning. New job requirements, new technology, new career fields are always changing the base skills, knowledge and attitudes [that] workers of today need."

For more on this topic, see:

Guide to Choosing College Majors:


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.