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How to pick a major

Although it can have a big financial return, college is a big investment, especially when you're not quite sure what to major in. So, it's understandable if you're asking: what are the most popular college majors, and which ones will give you the best chances of maximizing your investment?

Luckily, there are a few ways to start answering those questions. Here are six tips to get you started:

1. Find out what makes you tick

The first, most important step in your higher education journey is to think carefully, and honestly, about some of the key things that most excite you, and what you'd like to spend years — and lots of money — studying. What subject makes you tick?

Think about what majors typically lead to which jobs. At the same time, keep in mind that your college major won't necessarily limit career options: employers are becoming more flexible about who they hire, and you may find that your major could lead you into an unexpected job.

2. Consider career earnings potential

A key step in better understanding the potential financial return on different majors is knowing how much you can expect to earn after you graduate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a great place to start. It's also worth checking out online salary trackers — many of which are free.

3. Look at industry growth rates

You should also consider which industries will create the most new jobs in the future. For example, college majors in growing industries like alternative energy, technology and health care will probably increase your chances of landing a meaningful job in those fields when you graduate.

The BLS has compiled a list of what are projected to be the 20 fastest-growing occupations in the coming years, including the median pay of each. You should definitely seek out advisors and mentors—both in your target industry, and at your school. Professors, college advisors, and the career counselor in your school guidance center can all be great resources.

4. Picking a college major

When picking a college major, be sure to factor in the cost of your education. If your goal is to become a teacher or social worker, consider the long-term implications of paying back student loans to attend an expensive private university. Consider researching student programs that may help cover part of the costs of your education, such as programs for those considering public service careers.

5.Get a feel for the study and the job

If you aren't sure what you want to study, consider taking basic intro courses across a range of topics to test various majors—while you chip away at your core curriculum. And, if you're interested in the topic, take the next step: find out what's involved in the day-to-day work of different professions.

6.Remember it's part of a lifetime of learning

Regardless of whether you feel confident or concerned about your choice of major, it's crucial to remember that it's not the end of the road. Rather, it's one of the first steps in a lifetime of learning. Don't panic about the array of possibilities facing you—embrace them.

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