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How I (Finally) Chose My College Major

Reading time | 5 min

I changed my major 28 times in college. Yes, 28 times. Not only did my counselors know my name, but we had each other on speed dial.

Choosing a college major is difficult, and was even more so for me. Being someone with ADHD, I found it hard to focus on just one thing; I was fascinated with a variety of subjects: film, aviation, music, psychology, playwriting, and evolutionary biology, to name a few. At one point, I even considered pursuing three majors and two minors.

If you need to pick a college major, and you are uncertain how to go about it, don’t fret. Below are a few tips that helped me during this process.  

Take a variety of classes

For me, ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity or focus issues often manifest through intense curiosity. In fact, I have more than a few friends who would say I’m the most curious person they know. The great thing about college is that there are so many courses to choose from. If you are like me, you probably are curious about many different topics. I say, embrace that sense of curiosity and explore what interests you.

By graduation, most students have completed about 180 credits. I, however, had over 300. I loved taking extra classes. I also found my electives to be a nice break when my core classes became too much or hard to focus on.

Now, I’m not saying that you should take a ton of extra classes — that can get expensive, and may not be the best for keeping you on track to graduate. Complete your general education classes, but don’t be afraid to diversify every now and then. It’s great to see what’s out there. You may be surprised to find you’re passionate about something you’ve never considered before.

During your first two years in college, there’s a lot of freedom to choose which classes you want to take, especially if you’re still undeclared. I enrolled in many extra courses far — and I mean far — outside of what I thought I wanted to major in.

You can also see if there are options to audit classes. That way, if it turns out you don’t care for the subject, it won’t affect your GPA. Graduate classes tend to be much more specialized. It may be worth asking if you’re able to audit some of those as well.

Explore different majors and minors, or even create your own!

I’m always amazed by my friends with ADHD who work jobs that are both technical and creative. For instance, someone who works as a Disney Imagineer.

If you’re detail oriented, but you also enjoy tapping into your creativity, you may want to consider a double major. Of course, pursuing a double major will take up a lot of your time, but you’ll still be able to enjoy the college social scene.

 See what your course requirements are for the programs you’re considering. Have a meeting with your counselor to see if it can happen. You may have to stay for an extra semester or two, but it could be worth it.

Some schools allow students to create their own major. It takes a good amount of planning and drive, but it could be very enriching.

The world is changing at a rapid pace. The job that is perfect for you might not even exist now — you’ll have to create it.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses

Do you excel in classes with a lot of structure? Or, do you prefer a curriculum that’s a bit more laid back? Are you a verbal or visual learner? When I was in school, I was a very slow reader but could focus well during lectures. Therefore, I needed classes that were more lecture-based.

For me, film production turned out to be the best fit. It was a highly intensive program. In fact, it was one of the most challenging programs at my school. It was also both technical and creative, with a lot of hands-on learning. And most of the information was taught verbally, so it was perfect for me.

And here’s a cool fact: Two students in my class living with ADHD and dyslexia both went on to work for Pixar!

I’ve often had trouble with reading or tasks that require sustained attention on one topic, but I’ve excelled in more creative areas like visual art and performance. If you’re like me in that way, majors like design, media, art, and digital production might be a better fit than majors like philosophy, literature, or English.

My college dorm mate, who also had ADHD, found that the opposite was true. He had trouble with courses in the arts, but was a total science wiz and is now at a top medical school.

ADHD affects everyone differently. A learning method that works well for me might not be the best option for you, and vice versa.

Know what you’re naturally good at

When I first opened up to my mom about my ADHD diagnosis, she sat quietly for a moment and said, “I thought all of those things were just because you were a creative type.” While I can’t scientifically prove that my ADHD made me creative, I feel that my creativity and ADHD certainly work together.

My dorm mate, who I mentioned earlier, was able to hone in on his hyper-focus for dissections in advanced anatomy classes, earning him a spot in a top medical school, while I excelled in my screenwriting classes because I was able to use hyperlinking to make narrative connection and build stories.

I was equally good at theater and photography. This lent itself to a major in film production.

Are you the person your friends come to for advice? Consider psychology! Are you great at math? Explore finances or economics! Do you have a knack for understanding how the world works? Explore biology or astronomy!

Explore subjects you were good at as a child and in high school. Think back on extracurriculars or electives you excelled at. Also, ask your friends and family what they think your natural strengths are!

Be honest with yourself

You have to be honest with yourself about what you love and what you’re good at. The Japanese word "ikigai" really helped me with this. Imagine a Venn diagram with four circles:

  • what you love
  • what you are good at
  • what you can be paid for
  • what the world needs

At the center of those four circles is "ikigai," which means the reason for being.

It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. You don’t need to know what you want to do with the rest of your life by the time you start college. I just celebrated my 25th birthday, and I’m still clueless!

Find a major that you think is most interesting. Of course, be responsible. Don’t just pick a major because it seems easy or fun. While you may not necessarily pursue your major as a career, you want it to at least steer you in the right direction.

ADHD-US-NP-00033 NOVEMBER  2018