Your Pocket Guide to Choosing a University Major

Choosing a university major can feel like a big step because it is the subject you will commit to study for the next four years. But fret not. In this guide, you will find the steps and a series of questions to help you evaluate your options and pick the best-fitting university major based on your passions, skills, personality, goals, and more. Let’s go!

1. Ask Yourself, “Who am I?”

What are my interests?

You would spend a lot of time focusing your studies on one specific academic discipline, also known as your major, so it had better be an area you are interested in and motivated to learn. Studies have found that students who focus on their interests earn higher grades, and, more than others, they tend to stick with their choice of major through graduation and graduate on time. Majoring in your subject of interest also means studying alongside people with similar interests, who may become meaningful connections for your future life and career. 

What kind of personality do I have?

Choose a major that aligns with your personality. For example, a person with a pragmatic personality would have more fun working with data than someone with a more creative disposition and thrives in chaotic, unstructured environments. If you have an investigative personality, studying law or psychology (provided that it is also your area of interest) would satisfy your persistent curiosities. But if you think you have a knack for taking calculated risks, why not explore business, economics, or entrepreneurship? If you need help defining your personality, consider taking a personality quiz, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire.

What are my strengths?

You can have a deep interest in a subject and still struggle with it. Before you commit to any major, consider whether you will be able to handle the coursework. Some interests are better left outside the classroom to pursue at your own pace. On the other hand, focusing your studies on a discipline that comes more naturally to you may bring more joy and success. And one way of determining your innate skills and talents is to look at your current grades, which may highlight strengths in specific academic areas. 

What are my priorities?

Think about your core values and what you value in a future career. Do you seek to drive change or immerse in artistic creation? Is it job stability you are looking for or work that aligns with your passion? How would you rank salary potential, career prospects, and work-life balance in your considerations? Having your priorities sorted can help you shape your career goals and guide you in choosing the perfect degree programme that fits.

2. What Kind of Career Are you Looking For?

After conducting this self-introspection exercise, you may already have a rough idea of the type of career you are looking for. The next step is to dig deeper into these preliminary career options to determine if they meet your expectations (and if your expectations meet reality) and whether you can see yourself in them as a future career.

How much can I earn?

Understanding the earning potentials of your major options can help set your expectations, and you can decide if that level of income satisfies you. Look up the starting salaries of local graduates by university and programme. The Ministry of Manpower also publishes updated salary statistics for over 150 common occupations in Singapore. But take all this information with a pinch of salt. Because, like all survey studies, the results are aggregated and averaged. Whichever degree you choose, you can always earn lower or higher than the average earnings.

What are my career prospects? What is the outlook of the profession or industry?

Most students are motivated to know what opportunities they can get as fresh graduates in their field of study. Looking at the employment rates for that discipline across various industries is a good starting point. Understand how far your degree can help you progress in your career and whether you need additional education certifications or upskill training to get to your dream job. Be sure to stay ahead of industry trends to determine whether a specific profession will continue to be in demand in the coming years. And if disruptions are anticipated, how will they impact your future employability?

How much responsibility do I want, and how much can I take?

How much do you know about the career options associated with your chosen major? What are the job responsibilities? Do you have to manage others or be responsible only for yourself? Professions requiring highly skilled talents generally come with more responsibilities. And it may also mean making more sacrifices. Consider how much responsibility you see yourself holding in your future career and your idea of an ideal work-life balance. 

Does it satisfy me?

It will be hard to commit to a field of work you do not believe in. Whether it is monetary fulfilment, innovation pride, or the joy of helping others, your job must give you a sense of satisfaction. In other words, do you think you will enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding career in the near horizon should you choose to pursue this major?

3. Research on Degree Programmes that Align with Your Career Goals

Once you have figured out the kind of career you want and how it aligns with your values, interests, and strengths, start your research on the different majors. Educate yourself on all options. Even within a specific field, you can take many different paths. While you figure out the pros and cons of each major, also ask yourself these questions (and not necessarily in the following order): 

  • How many people graduated in that major? What are some of them doing now in their career?
  • How rigorous will the coursework be? 
  • What is the cost of the programme? What scholarships can I apply for to fund my tuition fee in this area of study?

4. Get Advice from Others

Check in with a career counsellor or academic advisor. They can offer you advice on major options based on your level of interest, grades, and career goals. For more specific advice, you may want to approach people from the faculty in that major. They would give you a better idea of the curriculum and course structure, the career potential, the benefits and drawbacks of that field of study, and whether your skill set fits well with the programme. And if you have connections with undergraduates and graduates of that degree programme, get some real insights from them!

5. Consider Double Majors or Minors

If picking only one major makes you feel like you are giving up on other paths, consider another major or a minor. Most students who double major choose two academic fields that complement each other. But you can also dedicate your primary major to a more lucrative career and choose a passion for a second major or minor. Either way, it demonstrates your versatility, helps you stand out when applying for jobs, and may even increase your career choices.

6. Have a Plan B: Just in Case You Change Your Mind

Sometime down the road in university, you may start to think that your committed major is not the best fit because your passions, skills, or even priorities have shifted. Life is unpredictable, so such things happen. And when they do, you will be glad you did your homework and prepared a backup plan.

When you decide on a major, take the opportunity to figure out how your major’s requirements align with those of other majors. In cases where the requirements for one major can be transferred to another, you may not need to restart your programme. Above all, familiarise yourself with all the rules and deadlines for changing your major.

7. Trust Your Instincts

Finally, when it is time to apply, if the thought of starting your programme makes you nauseous, you might want to reconsider your choice. But if you are all hyped up and can even visualise yourself working in that chosen field, it is a good sign that you have picked the right major for yourself.

8. As Important as Deciding on a Major is Where you Pursue it

You may have decided on a major. But within the same major, different universities have different course contents, course structures, methods of teaching, and forms of assessment. Make sure you drill into the details and review each university’s offering to ensure that the programme you choose meets your intellectual interest and plays to your learning strengths.

There are also many other factors involved when evaluating a university, such as the university rankings, reputation, campus size, location, quality of accommodation, and extra-curricular activities that provide for your particular interests. That, on its own, makes another pocket guide!