How to pick a major – when you have no idea what to do

For someone who hasn’t quite decided what they want to be when they grow up, picking a major and subjects at university can be daunting. Some degrees it is quite simple, there are only a few majors (if any) to choose from, but if you are studying a subject like science or arts (or in my case both) you can have upwards of 20+ majors to choose from.

Majors available at USYD for a Bachelor of Science

How are you meant to pick between physiology and immunology or cell pathology and histology (aren’t those almost the same thing?) if you have no idea what you want to do after university? Not to mention that most majors require prerequisites that have to be taken in first year so you really don’t have much time to decide.

I had no idea what I wanted to do in first year so made the mistake of picking subjects without any thought to what they would allow me to major in and thus ended up in a major out of necessity rather than choice. Luckily I actually love what I majored in and thought it was a good fit but I have heard horror stories of students getting to their final year only to find that they don’t have enough subjects to form a major – don’t let this be you.

So here is what I wish 18 year old Lizzie knew when starting university.

If in doubt – keep all doors open

If you don’t know what you want to do after university or what to major in then choose the route that will keep as many doors open as possible. You don’t want to be picking one subject because it is fun or interesting if it is going to shut more doors than it opens, unless you are committed to that major. Write down all the majors you are slightly interested in and identify their prerequisites. Then choose prerequisites that will allow you to keep as many of these majors open as possible.

For example, you may find that in order to major in genetics, biochemistry, immunology, and molecular biology you need to take a second semester subject in first year. Aim to take that subject so you keep these 4 options open.

The other thing you should consider are graduate options. For example, when I decided to purse postgraduate medicine I was kicking myself that I hadn’t studied anatomy or physiology in undergrad because some universities in Australia require anatomy and physiology as a prerequisite so without those subjects I was limiting myself. Luckily I was able to score an offer from a different university so it wasn’t a deal breaker. But if you have any hint or indication that you may be interested in graduate study then make an effort to capture those subjects in your undergrad.

However, please don’t think it is the end of the world if you pick the wrong major or need to take extra subjects. I know when you are at university it feels like a huge amount of time and the idea or delaying by a year or a semester to take a different subject or change your major is horrific. It isn’t. Because I did a double degree my undergraduate was 4 years whereas most of my friends were 3 years, after those 3 years majority of my friends went into an honours program – a few because they just had no idea what they wanted to do. An extra year or semester is not the end of the world. So take a deep breath.

I am a firm believer in making decisions that open doors or keep doors open for as long as possible. Which is why I often end up over my head in a various area or role because I’ve said yes in the hopes that it turns into something. I am now at the stage that I am beginning to close doors to focus on my three priorities – medicine and science, communication, and business. But whilst you are young and don’t have a clear path in life, strive to open doors – you can always close them later.

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