Picking a Degree: A Guide

College is not like the movies. Not everyone goes to college with a shiny degree all picked and ready to go. Most people walk onto campus their first day without any idea of what they want to study, what career their aiming for, or even what the next semester’s class lineup will look like. This is a huge decision that could impact you for the rest of your life. A degree choice is not something you want to rush. However, it is something that will require a lot of active consideration. If you’re overwhelmed, or confused about even where to begin, then you’re in luck. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about choosing the right degree for you.

Work Backwards

Remember, your degree is your ticket to a career. No, just having a degree won’t guarantee you a job after graduation. However, it can lock you into a career direction. One of the best ways to choose a degree is to work backward. Sit down and make a list of all the careers and types of careers that interest you. Then, from that list, circle the ones that interest you the most. Do some general research on those careers.

Whittle It Down

As you research interesting career choices, you have to keep in mind all of the aspects of each career. You want your future career to bring in enough money to provide you with a future, and financial stability. However, you also want your career to be interesting and exciting. As you look for this balance of needs ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much money does this career make to start out, and how much could I make in the future?
  • How many jobs are available in this career path each year?
  • How many years of College will it take to obtain a degree that could get me a job?
  • Could this career provide enough income to cover my student loans, and provide enough money to cover housing and life expenses?
  • Could I see myself doing this for the rest of my life?
  • What is the average work life balance of someone in this career? Does that work for me?
  • Does my College or University provide a degree program that this career requires?


Once you have answered all of these questions for each career path option, look back over your notes. Pick a few (3 or 4) that look like they would be prime options for you. Then, the hard work begins.

Talk to a Career Counselor

Most colleges have a career counseling center. Make an appointment with a career counselor and talk about your top ranking options. Ask about your school’s programs, graduation rates for those programs, and how competitive you can expect each degree program to be. They can help you know what to do next. This is an important opportunity to talk about the cost of education. Some programs are more expensive than others. Talk to your career counselor about the pros and cons of taking out student loans for each program. Discuss how much you might need in loans and ask if there are any scholarships, grants, or other financial aid options available for students in that particular program.

Take a Few Generals

Whittle down your options to one or two. Then, sign up for an introductory level general course for each of option. Taking an introductory level general will help you get a feel for what the degree program might hold in store. Mostly, you’ll get a good understanding of whether or not the material is something that could hold your interest over the course of your education, and your career beyond.

Take advantage of these courses. Talk to your instructor/professor about the field. Get an understanding of what it might be like to work in that field, and in that degree program. They could be the person that points you toward success and happiness.

Talk to Your Program Advisor

                Each program has a program advisor available to speak to you about declaring your major or entering a particular program. Make an appointment with one or two of these program advisors to help finalize your decision. They can tell you deep details about the program, what to expect, and who else might be able to answer your more detailed questions.

Take this opportunity to talk about degree availability. Make sure you are clear about your goals with the advisor. Talk about whether or not the degree you are looking for is provided by your college or university. Also, sometimes certain courses are discontinued for a school, or will not be available in time for your graduation. Discuss this with the advisor and seek help in troubleshooting your options in case this happens.

Don’t Take Too Much Time

If you still aren’t decided after your second semester of college, then you might be entering sink or swim territory. Some courses for degrees are semester specific and waiting too long could delay your graduation wasting your precious time and money.

After you have gone over things with program advisors, done the research, and found some great options, then it’s time to take the plunge. If you like what you see, you’re interested in the field, and you think you could find a good, stable career after college, then the rest is up to you.  It is time to ask yourself the final, most important question of them all. What do I want to do? Go with your gut, plug your nose, and dive on in.

You are worth holding out for the right degree, but making the best decisions will require intense research, soul searching, and thought. Jump into the program that will lead you to a happy, successful career. Decide what you want to do, make a plan, and go for it. Your future is worth the effort.


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