4 questions to ask yourself when choosing a degree
If you’ve decided to pursue a college education online, you may find yourself wondering how to choose a degree. It’s a decision that could dictate the next few years of your life and beyond, and the number of different majors to choose from doesn’t make the process any easier. The sheer number of options can make the act of choosing a degree feel overwhelming. It’s also a big commitment that you want to make with confidence.
According to a study from Ellucian, 68% of Gen Z students said they felt overwhelmed by the process of selecting a major, and 51% of students said they didn’t feel confident in their career path when they enrolled in college.
If you’re figuring out how to choose a degree but could use some guidance, here we’ll challenge you to ask yourself four questions when choosing an area of study. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how to choose a degree, but how you respond should take your specific passions, interests, skills, and career aspirations into account.
The value of a degree
A degree is an investment in both yourself and your future. It’s no secret that those who have a degree have more job opportunities and earn higher salaries than those without a degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), those with a high school diploma earn a median weekly salary of $781 versus bachelor’s degree holders, who earn $1,305. The BLS reports an unemployment rate of 9% for those with only a high school education compared with just 5.5% for those with a bachelor’s. A college degree usually means more money and higher job security.
However, higher education is about far more than money. Pursuing a degree offers a chance for you to broaden your horizons, develop skills you don’t have, and pursue your passions. High school does a good job of allowing students to sample a little bit of everything, from science to history to foreign language. In college, you get to fully immerse yourself in your favorite subject.
Questions to ask yourself when choosing a degree
Choosing a degree takes big-picture thinking. You not only have to consider who you are now but also who you want to become through your career. Ask yourself the following four questions to narrow down your search.
1. What subjects do you excel at?
In high school, you took a wide variety of courses. Some subjects may have felt challenging and required extra effort; other courses may have felt just the opposite. Which subject felt like an “easy A?” Was English class a breeze? Did science lessons stick after hearing them once?
Whatever degree you choose, you’ll be challenged — college isn’t designed to be easy. However, if you excel at a certain subject, you’re more likely to do well in that subject at the collegiate level. Going with what you’re good at is never a bad idea because you’re further developing a core talent you already have.
2. What are you passionate about?
Think of a topic you could talk about for hours, something you bring up with friends, a subject that you track down the latest news about.
Whatever the subject — space travel, modern medicine, video games — you can find a number of degrees that relate. Choosing a degree by following your passions is an ideal way to select a field that can keep you interested now and in the long term. If you’re passionate about your subject, you’ll be better inclined to handle the workload of courses, papers, and exams.
3. What is your ideal work environment or industry?
Career counselors commonly ask, “What do you see yourself doing in five years?” That can be tough to answer before you’ve chosen a degree, so a more useful question might be, “What is your ideal work environment or industry?”
Do you hope to travel for work or want the flexibility of a remote job? Are you an avid reader interested in working with colleagues who live and breathe books? Perhaps publishing would be the right fit. Do you want to work in a high-tech environment at the leading edge of computer science? Consider a career in web development or cybersecurity. Are you drawn to the idea of working closely with people to improve their daily lives? Think about social work or nursing.
If you’re struggling with how to choose a degree, figuring out the type of company you’d like to work for is a great place to start. Research the types of roles your favorite companies are hiring for, identify the job titles that look interesting to you, and then see what type of degree is needed.
4. What is the outlook for your degree type and dream job?
After you’ve created a list of degree options that align with your preferences, aptitudes, and goals, narrowing the list down can still be a challenge.
Another important consideration in choosing a degree is its value in the job market. People choose degrees in business, nursing, and information technology (IT) for a good reason: Employers consistently need individuals with educational backgrounds in those areas. Business, health care, and technology continue to grow year after year, which is why academic advisors sometimes refer to them as “safe options.”
When choosing a degree, think about its long-term career prospects. Is the industry or role you’re interested in growing, holding steady, or declining? The BLS offers salary data and job growth projections that can help you assess a specific field’s viability.
Take the first step to select your degree
A bachelor’s degree lays the foundation for a successful career and can further expand your knowledge in a field that interests you. Now that you’ve started thinking about how to choose a degree, the next step is to kick off the search process.
Answer a few questions about your interests and learning style, and our recommendation engine will help you find a program that is best suited to your needs. Begin searching for degrees now with Pearson Pathways.