5 Tips for Choosing the Right Degree

Tips for Choosing a Degree

Follow these helpful tips when choosing your college degree.

By Chris Kyle
Last updated on 7/18/2014

Choosing the right degree to pursue is a big decision.

Did you know University of Florida has 16 colleges and more than 100 undergraduate majors alone?

As another example, University of California has nine different campuses, and majors may vary by campus.

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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 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.

However, Randall S. Hansen, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Choosing a College Major," believes that number is even 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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One thing to ask yourself is if the degree fits your personality. When choosing your degree it helps to know if you have a social personality or not, according to University.com, a comprehensive research and rating site for students interested in studying online.

It's also 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."

Consider taking "classes in which you're going to be confident, but at the same time, take some risks," Stephanie Balmer, head of school at Halpeth Hall tells the College Board, a non-profit organization connecting students to college success and opportunity. You never know - a class you didn't even plan on taking could end up helping you to choose your major, Balmer adds.

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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 could be rewarded, Anderson 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. The U.S. Department of Labor provides salary and job growth information for hundreds of careers.

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

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 could 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 about the journey, not the destination.

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

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Chloe West also contributed to this article by updating the information on 7/18/2014

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