5 Tips for Choosing the Right Degree

Tips for Choosing a Degree

Follow these helpful tips when choosing your college degree.

By Chris Kyle   

Choosing the right degree to pursue is a big decision.

Did you know the University of Florida has 21 colleges and schools that offer more than 200 majors and degree specializations?

As another example, University of Phoenix, North America's largest private university, offers both online and on-campus degree programs at the associate's, bachelor's, master's, and even Ph.D. level.

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It's a lot to process for someone who is headed back to school. The good news is that we've put together some helpful tips for choosing the right degree.

Tip #1 - Relax

When it comes to deciding on what degree to pursue, "It's perfectly common to feel anxiety," says Kristin Anderson, an academic advisor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Anderson, who has eight years of experience advising students on the process, estimates that 20 percent of her university's first-year students arrive unsure of their degree choice.

Randall S. Hansen, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Choosing a College Major," believes that number is higher across the country. In his article "Choosing a College Major: How to Chart Your Ideal Path", he states that the majority of students are undecided on what to study when they begin school.

Bottom line: Deciding on your major is an important decision, but not as big your initial decision to go to school. Ultimately employers will be interviewing and hiring you, not your degree.

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Tip #2 - Assess Yourself

"I really encourage students to find a major that interests them," Anderson says. "Ideally it should excite them and fit who they are as a person."

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It's important to ask yourself what you like to do and what you want to do. Often these answers will fit well with your pre-existing strengths and talents. If these areas don't naturally align, tread carefully.

"The danger is when you have someone who wants to be an engineer but really struggles in their math and science classes," Anderson says. "Sometimes it works out but more often than not it ends up being a situation where they may fail and have to retake classes. We try to avoid that."

The University of Nebraska offers several interactive assessments that you can do online to help identify your skills and match you to occupations. Anderson says she works closely with the school's career services department and often refers students to talk to an advisor as well.

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Tip #3 - Explore and Examine

Now it's time to turn your dreams into real-life options. This is the research and development stage.

Put in the work here and you will be rewarded, Andersons says, because students who are successful at selecting a degree are usually the most prepared.

"They are the ones who end up being the most confident and comfortable with their decision," Anderson says.

To prepare her students, Anderson recommends job shadowing where you get to observe a workplace. If you don't have this option, you can also rely upon any prior work or internship experience you've had.

You can also look at job security and compensation data for careers you want to pursue. PayScale has a 2010-2011 College Salary Report that analyzes starting and mid-career pay for 120 different degrees.

But don't stop there. Talk to friends, students, and faculty members who have experience in areas that interest you.

You should also look at the requirements for the different degree programs and the courses they offer. If you like what you see, you're probably looking in the right place!

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Tip #4 - Try and Try Again

Once you make a decision on your degree, give it the old college try.

Go to class. Take notes. Participate. Ask questions. Form a study group. Live your life.

Hey, you might even choose a degree and make the decision to switch at a later date. Or you may pick a major and ultimately end up working in a different field. That's okay. There are plenty of very successful people who are more than happy with a career that isn't directly linked to what they studied in school.

Pushing forward, regardless of the specific degree you choose, is the key here.

When it comes to college - and life for that matter - progress, not perfection, is the goal.

"Young people are earnest and want to make the right decisions," says Curt Rosengren, a Seattle-based career coach. "They want to create success and do the rocket ride to the top. I always say don't worry about making the right decision because the odds are really good that you're not going to. "

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Tip #5 - Enjoy the Ride

Whether you study accounting or business, ancient Greek or English, nursing or criminal justice, the coursework you encounter will surely frustrate you at times and inspire you at others.

It will also be fun. Hopefully a lot of fun.

So don't obsess over what's coming and instead enjoy the college experience while you can.

Life, as the saying goes, is a journey, not a destination.

What are you waiting for? Pick a degree and let the adventure begin!

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