The Adult Learner's Checklist for Choosing a College Major

By Bailey Werner on September, 23 2021

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The Adult Learner’s Checklist for Choosing a College Major

One of the first questions you’ll face in college isn’t on an exam. It’s one you’ll ask yourself: “what should I major in?” Sounds simple enough, but as most soon-to-be or returning college students realize, this question is more complicated than it seems.

The more you try to solve it, the more questions arise. What will I do after I graduate? What classes will I need to take? The process of picking a major can quickly become overwhelming.

For adult learners, it can seem even more daunting. Whether you have professional needs, family obligations, or a mixture of both, picking the right major is especially important. No one wants to waste time or money, especially when your hands feel tied already!

Luckily, while choosing a major is a complex process, it’s a straightforward one. Skip the head-scratching by following this handy checklist for choosing the perfect college major for you. It breaks the process into bite-size chunks—tailored specifically for adult learners, it is sure to ease your concerns, such as being “too old” or “incapable” of going to college.

It’s never too late to learn, and studies done by the University of Toronto even show that higher education can stave off cognitive decline in adults. So not only is it possible for an adult to learn new things in college, but it’s also beneficial to their health and memory!

As an adult learner, you also have something younger students lack… experience! This alone will help you in choosing a major and throughout the college process. So, if you’re ready to figure out your ideal major but don’t know where to start, read on and work along!


Step 1: Reflect

Surprisingly, the first step isn’t asking, “what do I want to major in?” It’s “what do I want out of college?” Is it to keep updated or learn new skills? Advance your career or change fields? Knowing whyyou want to attend college will help you decide whatto go to school for.

Let’s say you want to switch careers. The next question to ask is, “what is and isn’t working about my current work situation?” This is important, so the major you choose doesn’t throw you into the same rut you want to get out of.

Think about what you enjoy about your job. Is it the social aspect? Choosing your own hours? Helping others? Now think about what you’d like to change. Is it your work environment? The type of labor? The pay? Truthfully assess your strengths and weaknesses. What would you have the talent or patience to learn?

These questions should help inform you what to look out for and what to avoid in a major. For example, if you don’t enjoy math and working in an office all day, accounting probably isn’t for you. Do you love kids and public speaking? Maybe teaching is your ideal path. Reflecting on these matters will help you keep your career goals in focus and work productively towards a better future.

Consider things you’ve enjoyed in the past. Was there a class in high school that inspired you? What about a seminar, community service project, or hobby? Sometimes we overlook college paths we’d enjoy in favor of more “safe” options. As an adult learner, you have the chance to correct this. Try out an art class; take risks. You have a better idea of what you’re capable of now, and it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Regardless of why you want to attend college, find something you’re passionate about. Having a personal connection to your major will make completing classwork and earning your degree much more fulfilling.


Step 2: Research

You now have a jumbled pile of conditions for your major. The longer your list of requirements, the better, since it will help you narrow down the majors which best work for you. It’s time to research! If you already have an idea of what college you’d like to attend, that’s great. Look through all the programs they have to offer. Take your time!

Once you’ve found a major that meets most of your demands, don’t settle; dive deeper! College is a financial investment, and you wouldn’t invest in something unless you knew all the costs.

For example, research the exact steps it will take to earn your degree. You don’t want any surprises, and some careers are a bigger commitment than you might think. For example, education and nursing students need to graduate AND obtain licensure. You may also be required to take classes after graduating to continue moving up in the field or keep your knowledge and skills up to date.

Some other questions to ask: what is the cost of tuition? Are there special scholarships or internship opportunities for this major? How long will it take to earn my degree? Can I take classes while working full-time? Are courses on-campus or available online?


Step 3: Experiment

You have your dream major, or maybe you’re still deciding. Before you dive straight into college, test the waters. Gain some field experience. See if there is anywhere, you can volunteer or intern that does similar work to what you’ll be going into. Take a workshop or try out a beginner course. This way, you can explore your options without making a major commitment.

It’s ok if you change your mind! Many undergrads change their major, and it’s just as normal for adult learners to. You don’t always know what you want until you try it out. Some college credits are transferable to other degrees. However, you get too far down a certain path, and you risk wasting time and money. To avoid this disappointment, it’s a good idea to dip your feet in before plunging into a new major.


Step 4: Review

Once you’ve tried out a couple of college classes or a bit of work in the field, be honest. Is this something you enjoy enough to see it through? Will studying this major enhance your skills or your career? Above all, are you willing to give the time, effort, and money to earn your degree? It’s ok if you answered no to any of these. In that case, maybe retrace a couple of steps. Again, take your time! College isn’t going anywhere, and if you have the passion for seeking higher education, you deserve a major you’re equally passionate about.


Step 5: Commit

You’ve made it to the final step on this list. Nice work! It’s go time. Once you have a major and you’re feeling confident about it, start getting your ducks in line. Save back money—budget for your tuition and other possible expenses. Create a timeline with your expected graduation date. Enroll in classes. Challenge yourself to get the most out of your college experience! Just know that you can achieve greatness, no matter what you choose. Now go teach those younger students how college is done!



American Psychological Association. (2005, March 13). Brain imaging suggests how higher education helps to buffer older adults from cognitive declines [Press release].


Bailey Werner

Mild-mannered student by day, writer by night... but typically by day, I’m Bailey Werner, current junior and graphic design major at Fort Hays State University. With a passion for storytelling that stemmed from 3rd grade writing hour, I’ve been crafting worlds and characters as a hobby for over a decade. Now, as a part-time content creator for the school, I’m living out my dream of writing professionally. If I’m not in my room reading, gaming, or making art, you can find me at the lake. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling, and I’ll continue to use my writing skills after graduation, in my work as a graphic designer.


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