Dear New Shrink,

My daughter is currently working on her college applications and I am trying my best to support her. For most of the schools she is applying to she must declare a major. However, she feels very unsure about her future and her high school only offers very basic disciplines so she has only been able to explore the typical science, math, English, and social studies courses. While I know what she is good at and I could make a guess about the college majors she could study, I am not sure that this is the best long-term approach. What advice do you have to help her select a college major for her applications?

Signed,

Undeclared Mom

Dear Undeclared Mom,

Your question is a very common one. Choosing a college major is one of the key decisions a young adult has to make, and to make this decision before one has truly experienced the world may seem impossible. While choosing a college major does not dictate the rest of one’s life, it still can have a significant impact on a student’s adjustment to college life and to opening their mind to new ideas. Ask your daughter to try out the following things before declaring a major on her college applications.

1. Consider what your true interests are. What magazines or books are appealing? What TV shows do you find yourself drawn to? Are there certain special projects that you have really enjoyed? Although high school classes may only expose you to a few topics there are ways to explore your academic interests through other environments. For instance, if you find yourself drawn to home improvement shows, you might consider exploring majors like architecture, real estate, urban planning, or interior design. If you enjoy trying out new recipes or watching cooking shows you might explore majors like hospitality management, culinary arts, or food science.

2. What’s your story? Applying to college is all about making sure that the pieces of your background connect to tell a story. Reflect back on your past and consider the things you enjoyed at an early age, the activities you have participated in, the volunteer work you have done to serve your community, and the areas you have received awards for. While this may not translate directly to a college major, it can help you consider how your past experiences can help support your decision to choose a particular field of focus. For instance, if you always find yourself working with a group of people you might explore majors that allow you to work in teams or to study other people. Majors like psychology, sociology, or anthropology might provide a unique opportunity to learn more about the people in the world around you. If you found that you really enjoy being outside or you enjoy working with your hands you might explore mechanical engineering, landscape architecture, or viticulture.

3. Consider your learning style. Do you learn better through reading and lectures? Do you need hands-on activities to truly understand the materials? Do you enjoy group projects? Writing? Experiments? Considering the components of your ideal class may help you to make a major decision. Some majors like biological sciences, chemical engineering, or sports medicine typically require a number of labs and experiments whereas majors like philosophy, humanities, or political science may focus more on research papers and projects. By focusing on your strengths and reviewing the classes required of particular majors you could find an ideal match.

4. You can always change your mind. Many college students end up changing their major at least once during college. The more experiences you take advantage of the easier the process of choosing a major will be. Many liberal arts college students are required to take a wide variety of courses in addition to those in their major. Use these electives to test out different majors and confirm whether you made a good first decision or whether you need to re-evaluate and try something else.

Finally, in deciding which schools to apply to it may be best to select those that have a wide variety of majors. Having options once you enroll in a particular school will help your daughter to remain open minded about her major and her future.

KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional college and career counselor. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Cornell University. Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!