Picking a college or a major is so much easier if you truly know yourself. Here are a bunch of questions (and things to do) to get you started.
Assess your interests
What type of activities do you like outside the classroom? What types of courses do you enjoy? What class activities or discussions motivate you? What have you enjoyed about past jobs or volunteer positions? What kinds of careers appeal to you? Which don’t?
Analyze your abilities
What are your personal strengths? What are your best subjects? What have past teachers told you that you’re good at? Have you been complimented by others on a particular skill? What types of class assignments do you excel at? What would your friends say is your best personal trait?
Figure out your values
Is it important to you that you make a difference by working with others? Do you want to lead or manage? Is it important to you to work independently? Is creativity on the job a must for you? Do you value status in the community, on the job, etc.? Do you value social good over material gain? Do you want to make an impact on society?
Explore your options
Attend college fairs and collect school catalogs. Read about the course descriptions and explore the different organizations, clubs and volunteer activities. Talk to teachers and guidance counselors about majors and minors. Ask family and friends about a typical day at their work. Use onetcenter.org, from the U.S. Department of Labor, to find out about what skills different occupations require.
Learn to communicate better
How can you grow in your ability to speak and write? What kinds of student organizations can help you develop your communication skills? Are internships at local companies available? Do courses offer you opportunities to do research, give presentations and lead group discussions?
Become a leader
How can you develop your ability to lead a project or organization? Do courses offer you opportunities to work with others and manage tasks? What kinds of student leadership opportunities are available? Are there student organizations you would be interested in joining and leading?
Practice teamwork skills
Do courses offer opportunities to work with others on assignments? Are there opportunities for you to volunteer with other students for community service? Are you interested in any of the student organizations, academic clubs, intramural opportunities or student government opportunities?
Beef up your technical skills
After you graduate, will you be able to demonstrate your ability to use software and new technology? Are there interesting courses you can take to develop your computer skills?
Develop those people skills
Will internships offer you an opportunity to work with others? Will community service offer you an opportunity to learn about new cultures? Are courses available that teach conflict resolution skills? Are you interested in studying abroad?
Narrow your options
Cross out schools that do not give you experiences both inside and outside the classroom. Research the Web sites of the schools you are interested in. Cross out majors that you are not interested in.
Make sure you look at the course descriptions, electives and internship requirements of the majors that interest you. Choose a school that has more than one area of study that interests you. Still undecided? Look for a college with strong first-year advising programs to help you.
Suellen M. Lazarek is coordinator of the “CALLS” Program (Career/Academic/Lifetime Learning Skills) at Assumption College (assumption.edu) in Worcester, Mass.
Next Steppers talk back:
Q: What’s your advice for how to pick a major?
A: Choose it based on what you are good at, what you want to do, how much money you will make and how long you want to stay in college. —Faith Bailey is from Fairburn, Ga., and is a junior at Creekside High School
A: First and foremost, pick a major that revolves around a subject or passion that you love and enjoy doing. For me it was animals, which put me on the path toward becoming a veterinarian. —Denesha Oates is a sophomore at Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga.
A: Go with something you feel passionate about, something you can see yourself doing for a long time. —Jessica Humbert is from Pittsburgh and is a student at West Penn Hospital School of Nursing
A: Think of what you really like, but remember to ask yourself the following: Would you be OK doing it every single day of your life? Does it make you happy? Are you making a difference? And, also important, is there a market for it? —Paola Mariselli is a sophomore at Broward Community College
A: I recommend a little research into some career fields or jobs and perhaps volunteering in the environment of interest. You want to immerse yourself in an area where you know you will be happy working for the majority of your life. —Holly Tran is a junior at Middletown High School in Middletown, R.I.
A: Really self-evaluate and think about what you want, not just what your parents and family expect of you. —Keri is a senior at Inlet Grove High School in West Palm Beach, Fla.