How to Choose a Major When You're Going to School Online
Pursuing a college degree is no easy feat for any student—a college degree symbolizes a fork in the road. It is an opportunity that, regardless of a student’s background, may sometimes be intimidating. Most students want to ensure that they get a promising start to their college careers by picking the correct major from the very beginning, a task that is sometimes easier said than done.
A great way to start is to ask yourself some questions, like:
- What type of program is best for my personal lifestyle? Full-time or part-time? 100% online or hybrid (on-campus & online)?
- What do I like to spend my time doing?
- What are my strengths?
- What types of careers can I see myself in?
- How much education do I want or need to accomplish my career goals?
The purpose of this is to perform an in-depth self-assessment of your strengths and goals, which will help you make the right decision. Students who are good at math, for example, may be interested in a range of degrees from Math Education to Information Technology. An individual’s goals may also help to narrow those choices.
In addition to personal factors, potential students should conduct research into their career options. Each career field is unique in its demand, pay, the cost of education and training, and room for advancement.
Choosing an Online Major
Attending college online is more popular than ever. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 12% of all college students are enrolled solely in a virtual degree program. This is largely due to the fact that online courses can be more cost-effective and accessible for students with full-time or part-time careers, family commitments, or other obligations that prevent them from being able to attend traditional, on-campus classes.
Some of the strengths of online programs as compared to traditional programs are:
- Online programs are easily combined with work experience outside of the classroom to create a solid foundation for growing or aspiring professionals.
- Online degrees allow for greater flexibility for adults with busy schedules and multiple responsibilities.
- Each student can adjust their online course load to suit their personal needs and lifestyle.
On the other hand, there are a few potential downsides that you should also be prepared for:
- Some very hands-on majors may not be offered 100% online or as hybrid programs.
- Online programs require constant access to a computer with reliable internet.
- Online programs require even more motivation and self-discipline than on-campus degrees.
If you're thinking about a second degree, online colleges provide the perfect mix of convenience so that you can earn a degree to complement an existing career or further develop professional skills without having to cut back on hours.
Strategies for Choosing a Major
While it is not necessary to choose a major at the beginning of your college career, there are a few things to consider that will help pave the path to success: personal and professional interests, the cost of the program, and the employment rates of various careers in addition to their payoff.
Interests & Happiness
First, a potential student should always gear their studies towards their personal priorities and interests. Someone who hates to read and write should probably not start with a major in journalism. Likewise, someone whose strengths are not in numbers should probably avoid pursuing an online degree in accounting. No matter what your passion or drive, there is almost always a corresponding degree to your professional aspirations.
There are resources available to help students figure out what types of careers might fall in line with their particular interests. Websites such as My Next Move or the Princeton Review’s Career Quiz provide students with a series of questions that connects their interests to certain professions in order to give a sense of direction.
For adult students who have already invested time into an existing career, a college degree may be determined by taking into consideration the types of coursework that could expand on the skills and experience that you have already gained.
For professionals, online degrees can serve as a stepping stone to bigger, and better paying, opportunities in their field. As an example, many may start out in the technical field with an associate’s degree in IT, to later discover that a bachelor’s degree in information security is a reasonable, affordable method of boosting their resume.
Job Demand, Growth, & Salary
It is also helpful to do some research on each of the careers that you are seriously considering.
When gathering information on various careers, take note of average salaries, as well as job demand and expected growth in the current economy. You can explore careers on government websites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH).
For example, according to the OOH, home health aides are one of the highest demanded positions, alongside of financial advisors and physical therapists. However, the average pay of home health aides is less than $25,000 each year, while the average salary for physical therapists and financial advisors surpass $75,000 annually. In other words, you will want to balance salary with job growth.
The OOH also gives you an overview of the typical responsibilities and work environment for each profession. Some professions require sitting for long periods of time while others require intensive physical labor; some spend their days primarily outside in the sun, and other occupations hardly ever require you to leave the office building.
Knowing these kinds of details will help you to determine whether a certain career would fit well into your preferred lifestyle and goals.
Required Education & Cost
In addition to an associate or bachelor’s degree, it's not unusual for certain fields to require a licensure or certification. Sometimes, employers will cover the costs of these qualifications for developing professionals.
In other situations, programs may offer relevant certifications or licensure in conjunction with the coursework for certain programs so that students are more competitive upon graduating. There are also many official accrediting boards for professions that require certain standards of their respective programs in order to create reliable, knowledgeable professionals.
The average cost of an online degree varies greatly, anywhere from $10,000 to more than $100,000. This pricetag depends on factors like if the program is a two-year, four-year, or advanced degree. Find out which four factors impact online college cost the most.
Some online programs may cost more than others because they offer specific accreditations, internships, certifications, or other opportunities that may be more valuable than the financial costs presented. The unique qualities of each program should be considered carefully to ensure that the potential professional gets every bang for their buck. Always weigh the cost of the program to the average salary in your chosen field, and plan accordingly. And remember, a high pricetag does not guarentee a high quality education.
Popular Online College Majors
If you are undecided, it can sometimes be helpful to look at the decisions of other students before coming to a conclusion. By taking a look at the most popular college majors across the country, you can get an idea of how other individuals in your situation make the same difficult decision.
College majors can be popular for any number of reasons—their broad applicability, societal trends, the global economy, and more. We list the 5 most popular online college majors:
- Business Administration / Management
Nearly 1,000 out of every 10,000 students major in business administration or management. The starting salary for these graduates is a little more than $40,000, and this broad degree can lead to positions in sales, marketing, financial analysis, or even entrepreneurship. Administration and managerial skills are applicable in almost every career field, making this type of major a hit among those who are not dedicated to any other particular interest and who would like to develop their competitiveness and professional value.
#TRENDING: Grand Canyon University.
Another popular college major under the broad umbrella of business is accounting. Accountants enjoy steady job growth as all businesses require their services. Just under 500 out of every 10,000 students major in accounting and these degrees can be completed 100% online. Starting salary hovers around $48,261 while the average mid-career salary is $67,190.
#TRENDING: Capella University.
Nursing is a practical career that is in high demand. In the field of Nursing, students may find themselves with plenty of room for climbing the ladder, low unemployment rates, and a strong earning potential. It’s no wonder that this college major is popular among traditional and online students, alike. Many entry-level and advanced degrees in the nursing field are offered via online programs, making it accessible to a variety of individuals and their diverse lifestyles.
#TRENDING: Western Governors University.
A psychology major can lay the foundation for a variety of careers, not only for those that want to become a licensed psychologist. Psychology tends to pay well—the average salary for professionals is over $60,000 each year, according to the BLS—and it is also among the top 20 fastest growing industries! An online bachelor's in psychology can be completed 100% online while an online master's will usually require some on-campus time dedicated to supervised clinical work.
#TRENDING: Southern New Hampshire University.
- Criminal Justice
Criminal justice is a particularly popular major for online students. Criminal justice and specifically the field of cyber-security are becoming especially relevant in modern-day operations as more industries become reliant on technical projects and data management. The BLS predicts positions in Information Security to increase alongside of most of the technical industry in the coming decade. It doesn’t hurt to know that the field treats employees well; the median salary for information security analysts is around $90,000 each year.
#TRENDING: Liberty University.
Choosing a Minor
The concept of adding a minor may get tossed around during undergraduate registration. Picking a minor is not a requirement at most universities, but many students may find it beneficial. Minor fields of study typically require a handful of hours—usually, less than 30 credit hours by themselves—in addition to the liberal arts classes and the coursework required for the completion of your main college major.
For some students, choosing a minor to accompany a college degree can be a no-brainer. It may be viewed as an enriching experience for students who are easily able to supplement their major program. For other students, choosing a program may just add unnecessary stress and distraction in deciding on courses to complement their primary studies.
A couple of pointers when choosing a minor:
- A minor can provide the perfect opportunity for you to narrow down your professional ambitions by concentrating in a specific realm of your major course of study. For example: education majors may choose to concentrate (or minor) in special education or high school mathematics depending on their specialty. Likewise, a business administration major may choose a minor along the lines of accounting or finance.
- There are situations in which minor fields of study can serve as an alternative avenue for students to take some courses in an interest that may vary slightly from their choice of major. If a student that has a large interest in art decides to pursue psychology for its growing demand and high pay grade, it would be possible to complement the psychology degree with a minor in art or art therapy in order to cater to their interests. Many students who major in information sciences, for example, choose to complement their degree with minors such as criminal justice or vice versa.
- A minor field of study is going to be less time intensive than the major program, but is still going to take up a significant amount of time and mental capacity. Therefore, when considering a minor, you should look at your schedule realistically. You don’t want to over-commit and then feel overwhelmed. Also, just like for a major course of study, look at personal interests, professional goals, applicability, and relevance.
- Choosing a major in college is a serious decision for adult professionals and young adults alike, but it should not be taken too seriously. Most importantly, you should be confident and have fun in the decision making process. Picking a major can be a phenomenal learning experience that allows for potential students to explore themselves, their interests, and their strengths, before entering the next chapter of their lives.
- Potential students should always remember that any decision can be changed later down the road; nothing is permanent—not even choosing a college major! It is completely normal for a student to change their path while still in school; according to the New York Times, about half of all students change their major at least once. Most schools will offer an easy process to transition their students from one major or minor into another program.
- It is critical for incoming students to do their share of preparation: while not every student will know exactly what they want personally or professionally, each student should know what they are getting into.
- Students should be aware of the average outcome for graduates in their program, a number that is often provided by the school. They should use resources such as the BLS's Occupational Outlook Handbook to anticipate the amount of money that they will be able to make starting out of college as well as their ability to pay for the cost of their education. Undecided students can use the same resources to consider employment rates, industry growth, and popularity, to assist them in narrowing down their potential studies to two or three areas to explore.
- Overall, choosing a major should be a fun and unique learning experience for each individual students, so try not to stress over it too much. Remember, it isn’t about the path, it is about the journey—so take your time in making a decision, and weigh your options!
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