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When trying to help students navigate college majors, focus on understanding their needs and motivations as you proceed.

Helping students navigate college majors

When trying to figure out the best major for a prospective student, focus on understanding their needs and motivations

Key points:

  • Choosing a college major is one of the biggest decisions for most students
  • Future earnings and career satisfaction should be carefully balanced
  • See related article: A smarter way to think about college
  • For more news on college readiness, see eSN’s Innovative Teaching page

Deciding on a college major is a tricky decision for even the most dedicated of students. Before enrolling, students have to consider their own skills, their career prospects, and their ability to thrive within the department at large.

As a parent, guidance counselor, or teacher, you can help students navigate college majors by doing a little research of your own. Focus on learning more about the student’s goals and motivations, and look into potential professors before the semester starts. This will help you guide students toward a major that is both enjoyable and financially rewarding. 


Many students attend college with the knowledge that they’ll earn an average of $1.2 million more over their entire lifetime. While the financial reward of graduating shouldn’t be overlooked, neither should student’s interests when choosing a degree.

When trying to figure out the best major for a prospective student, focus on understanding their needs and motivations. What questions keep them up at night? Which classes do they enjoy the most in high school? How do they perform in their favorite class? Asking these questions will help students navigate their potential major and avoid disappointment in the future.

Remind students that choosing a degree in a subject they enjoy is more beneficial than pursuing a degree that they feel is sensible. Oftentimes, students enroll in degrees out of a misguided belief that some degrees are more practical than others. This is a mistake, as students who enroll in subjects they don’t enjoy are more likely to fail classes and miss out on their degree altogether.

If students are having a hard time deciding between subjects that interest them, encourage them to enroll in pre-requisite classes that fulfill both degree requirements. Oftentimes, courses like chemical engineering and mechanical engineering have the same requirements for students in their freshman and sophomore years. Taking classes strategically will give students a chance to develop their skills and gain experience while delaying their decisions.


There’s nothing wrong with choosing a college major that will lead to a high-income career. In fact, many students find that projected earnings help simplify the decision-making process and find a degree that suits them. 

Pursuing a profitable career is more important today than ever before, too. Federal student loans are more expensive now as interest rates range between 5.5 and 8.05 percent. This, coupled with the fact that college credits are more expensive, means that many students are putting their financial well-being first during the decision-making process.

As a teacher or parent, you can help students manage the financial strain they may face by alerting them to assistance programs. Some students who are already enrolled may be eligible for student relief programs, while others will be able to sign up for the new income-driven repayment plan.

Remind students that the best-paying careers are often the ones where their interests align with their roles. However, you shouldn’t sugarcoat the reality that certain degrees tend to bring in more cash than others. Currently, the highest-paying degrees for graduates include:

  • Chemical Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Business Analytics
  • Economics

These degrees can set graduates up for life and lead to interesting career paths. STEM-oriented degrees usually champion transferable skills, too, meaning your student will be set up to succeed as the world of work changes.

Assessing the department

Enrolling in college classes and taking courses is exciting for any student. However, as a parent or teacher, you know that the quality of the professors your student will work with is just as important as the subject matter they’ll cover.

Research the department together before your student enrolls. A quick search in Google will let you know if the department is undergoing a restructuring or has been under fire recently for poor performance. You can also use sites like RateMyProfessor to learn more about lecturers and professors before enrolling.

Ask about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives before your student enrolls for a particular degree. This is particularly important if your student comes from a traditionally marginalized background. Discrimination, intentional or otherwise, does occur on campus and can detract from a student’s ability to learn.

When researching a department, you may be surprised to learn about initiatives to increase inclusion. This is because many fields are falling behind due to poor representation. For example, the tech industry currently needs more LGBTQ+ voices to guard against stereotypes and overcome bias in program development. Your student may even be eligible for scholarships if they’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and have a passion for tech.


Settling on a college major can be a difficult process for students. There are hundreds of degrees to choose from and many students feel pressured to choose a degree that is regarded as practical. Help students choose a major by discussing their interests as well as their projected income. This will ensure that students enroll in degrees that will lead to future success in a field that they love.

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