As the summer tan fades and the holidays come to a reluctant end, we are reminded of our real purpose of being in university apart from the fun – that is to make meaning of our lives and pursue something that we are actually passionate about.
However, as the school term rolls into action, many of us are faced with the prospect of choosing the major that we want to pursue. There might be a multitude of reasons for and against a particular major, or it may be that you simply find yourself showing interest in more than one major (or perhaps even an interest in none). Bearing in mind that the greatest reason most of us put ourselves through university is to steer us towards better careers where we can make a difference, deciding on a majors with our future in mind can be one of the most daunting decisions of our student lives.
Your academic major, which is a specialisation within a bachelor’s degree, is meant to help carve out your niche from the broad curriculum, and enhance your marketability and employability by equipping you with a specific set of skills and knowledge for a particular career path. Apart from the Accountancy and Law faculties where the primary major is as enrolled, students from the other schools will have to face this decision in their second year. With a plethora of majors and second majors offered across all six schools to choose from, the biggest dilemma when deciding on a major often narrows down to two schools of thought: going with one’s passion or going with the better paying major.
Understandably, the ideal situation would be to be extremely passionate about a major that happens to also be the best paying one. But more often than not, such scenarios are few and far between, and students who attempt to make themselves fall in love with a supposedly well-paying major they have little interest in often find themselves in a great deal of misery halfway down the road. To further complicate matters, parents and friends often join in the fray and try to influence one’s decision while claiming to have their well-being in mind – and all these by pointing in completely opposite directions.
How then do you decide on a major?
Arguably, the best way might be to follow your heart and pursue a major that you have genuine interest in. You may wonder about the salary you will draw in time to come. But consider this – Apple’s Steve Jobs famously said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do”, and billionaire and owner of Virgin Atlantic Airways, Richard Branson listed: “Do the things you love and you will increase your odds of success” as the number one lesson of his 10 Must-Know lessons. Steve Jobs and Richard Branson may have been college dropouts, but their immense success was driven entirely by their passions.
Only when you love what you are learning will you understand and appreciate what you learn, and find it easier to excel in. This will occur as you subsequently find the stresses of the assignments and projects putting your interest to the test. Of course, you are not expected to immediately be certain about your major on your very first day: this is the reason why introductory classes assigned by the school make up your main degree’s core modules. These core modules are designed to give you a foundation and taste of what you may like or dislike. Separately, talk to friends, seniors and professors to find out more. It is also important that you don’t rush into a decision or make a choice based on how much you think one major is relatively ‘easier’ than others.
Your majors will help pave your way in your career and hence it is also important that you consider your employment interests as you decide on our major. Picking a second major that contrasts with your first major may open up further career opportunities (e.g. political science and finance) or, a complementary second major could strengthen your niche in specific areas (e.g. economics & finance). The internships you embark on will also be able to help you in your major decisions. For example, a stint at a PR company could help you find out if you would enjoy undertaking the Corporate Communications major and its related careers or not.
If there is one thing that is certain it is that no one has achieved greatness hating what they did. You may ‘chase the money’ for pragmatism’s sake initially, but over time, keeping up with your peers and colleagues may prove to be increasingly arduous and stressful as you compete for the next promotion or pay raise with people who are powered by their passions. Chase your passions and dreams, and not the money, for only by doing what you love will you find joy and discover many opportunities that you never knew existed, or better, uncover ways in which you can combine your passion with helping others, and still earn your keep.
As the school broadens its curriculum and offers more diverse majors and courses, you will also find yourself in a better position to pursue something you are most keen in. Choosing your major should not be taken lightly, but neither should you lose sleep deliberating over it too. It is important to rememebr that you are not alone in this and that you can always reach out to seniors, career counselors, professors, and friends for advice. Every school also conducts major talks that you should attend before you decide on your major(s). If this is the biggest decision of your student life, make it the best.
The author is a final year student at the School of Social Sciences with a major in Political Science, driven by his passion for international politics and advocacy work. He had previously served as the President of the SMU Social Sciences Society where he advised students on academic matters including major decisions, internships and student exchanges.