How should I choose my major?

Three overlapping circles: one says career options, one says interests, and one says aptitudes. They all overlap in the middle.

Maybe it’s time to start planning for university, and you have to start asking the big questions about which programs and universities you should apply to. Or maybe you’re already at university and unsure if you’re in the right program for you. If either of these sound like you, you are probably wondering, how should I choose my major?

Nobody but you can choose your path. Part of university is about learning more about yourself and your role in the world, and this self-discovery can help you choose your major!

This is the model I recommend for exploring your options and choosing a major. Find something in that middle zone of your aptitudes (skills and strengths), interests (what you enjoy), that has career options (that appeal to you). It takes some work to figure out what’s in that middle point, but it will help guide you when you’re planning your time at university.

How to choose your major: Three overlapping circles. One is peach and says "career options." One is pink and says "aptitudes," and one is blue and says "interests."
How to choose your major.

How to choose your major based on your APTITUDES

Spending your time as a student or a worker, slogging away at something you really struggle with will be a long, uphill journey. That’s not to say you won’t have to sometimes take courses or do work that you’re not the best at, but it shouldn’t be your main focus. Figuring out your strengths can help you focus and enhance those, rather than spending all your time challenging yourself.

If you don’t already know what you’re good at, it’s time to do some reflecting! What have others (teachers, parents, friends) told you that you are good at? What comes easily to you? Think about school and anything you are involved in outside of school: arts and crafts, hobbies, sports, clubs, volunteering…

If you’re having trouble determining your strengths, read this post: Understanding Your Skills and Interests.

How to choose your major based on your INTERESTS

We have to work for a long time. If you graduate from university at 23, and retire at 65, that’s 42 years of working, so you should definitely do something that you like! You will also enjoy your classes more if you are interested in the content and not just trying to get through.

You are probably still discovering your interests. Hopefully, you continue to discover new interests for the rest of your life! Think about the things that you get wrapped up in – what are the activities that stop time from passing when you’re doing them? What would you rather be doing when you’re bored?

If you’re having trouble narrowing down your interests, read this post: Understanding Your Skills and Interests.

How to choose your major based on your CAREER OPTIONS

This is important because it’s the main reason we go to university. And it’s challenging because there are so many careers out there that we don’t even know exist! We all know about doctors, lawyers, architects and engineers – but what about all those other people out there in fulfilling careers? Doing some research on the careers that are of interest to you before and throughout your time at university will help you make decisions about your own career.

You have a lot of time to explore your career options, but starting to do research early in your university degree will be helpful.

Here are the steps you can follow to start exploring career paths:

  1. Start with a really open search of job postings. You can go on LinkedIn or Indeed or any other job posting website, and just do some keyword searches based on careers you are aware of as well as your interests and aptitudes. You can also look at organizations you have heard of before to see what kinds of jobs are available.
  2. When you find a few postings that look interesting, look at the details. Start with the role description and the responsibilities. What appeals to you? What doesn’t sound very interesting? Does this role work independently or with others? Are they a leader who has to motivate and manage people? Notice which are transferable skills (which you can gain from any university degree) and technical skills (which may require specific training and certain university programs).
  3. Next, look at the qualifications (requirements) for that role. What kind of education and experience do you need? What skills do they want you to have? You can use this to guide some of your activities during university so that you can build your resume towards these jobs. You should try to find some entry-level positions that require less experience, as well as positions for later on in your career.
  4. Finally, use LinkedIn to look up some of the people who have these positions. You don’t need to contact them yet (we’ll talk about that later), but have a look at their education and past work experience to see how they ended up in those jobs. Career paths are not one-size-fits-all, but looking at the paths of others will give you some idea of how to advance in your career.

You may want to start saving some of these job postings in a folder so you can look at them later. These are just to provide guidance for you, and if you go through this process every semester or two as you go through your degree, you can continue to update your career goals. You can change your goals as you go through, but this activity will give you some basic knowledge of the kinds of roles that are out there, and what you need to access them.

If you aren’t finding any jobs that appeal to you, that’s still helpful. Early on, even knowing what doesn’t appeal to you will be helpful. Hopefully, you will eventually find some roles that are of interest to you! Just keep searching and trying new things.

As you gain experience and build your network, you can start reaching out to people who are in positions that you would like to learn more about. But early on, just build your knowledge and understanding of what your career path could look like.

You can read more about career exploration for students in these posts:
University Student Career Exploration
How can I explore my career options?

You can also check out the Glossary: Canadian University Vocabulary to find definitions of any vocab you haven’t seen before.

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