Once upon a not-so-long-time ago, college seemed a simple question of getting there. But in an age of austerity and a challenging economic environment, getting there and making it count has made one of the biggest decisions in a young person’s life that much bigger.

Matt Eaton of Northeastern State University’s Office of High School and College Relations says choosing a college and major hinges on many factors.

“The biggest questions we get are cost-related questions,” says Eaton.

While costs play a major role in choosing a college, Eaton also emphasizes that considering the total experience is key in the selection process. It is vital, he says, to get a physical feel for a candidate college.

“Go take campus tours. I feel that is where you’re going to get a feel for the school,” he says.

Choosing the institution is the easy part. Choosing the major, however, is where the wheels hit the road. While modern economic realities have put a premium on choosing a major that will provide long-term financial benefits, Stephen Crynes, University of Oklahoma’s University College Assessment director, suggests selecting a major based on economics alone can prove a poor approach.

“It’s dangerous picking strictly on a job market,” says Crynes.

Crynes says a little self-analysis can go a long way in choosing a major. He urges students to consider their natural skill sets, goals and interests in declaring a major, even if their head tells a tale that their heart may not want to hear.

“Not everybody can be engineers even if they want to,” he adds.

Earl Johnson, associate vice president for Enrollment and Student Services at the University of Tulsa, says choosing a major comes down to one basic question; “What is it that you are interested in studying?” Test scores, he says, tend to point to a fulfilling field of study.

“Students tend to demonstrate a strength area,” Johnson says.

While some fresh high school grads know exactly what they want their lives’ work to be the minute they show up on campus, many don’t. For those seeking direction, most colleges and universities do not require an immediate major declaration and provide resources to assist students in that life-defining decision.

“You’re talking about what your major is going to be that is going to stick with you for the rest of your life,” Eaton says. “I think one of the biggest things you can do is make sure that is what you want to do.”

Crynes explains that time as an undeclared major gives a student an opportunity to explore diverse fields to which they may have not been exposed before arriving on campus.

University of Tulsa students have until the second semester of their sophomore year to decide on a major. At Northeastern State, students normally declare a major after 15 hours of coursework, while the average University of Oklahoma student has declared a major after completing 24 academic hours.

Ultimately, however, college is about more than solving a campus and major equation.

“It’s part science and part art,” says Eaton.

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