Choosing a Major

Perhaps even more important choosing a college is choosing your major. When it comes to choosing a major, keep the investor’s paradigm in mind. Choosing a major is still a business decision. You are spending time and money in return for marketable skills which will serve you for years to come.

Don’t listen to advisors

In high school and college, the worse advice I received was consistently from academic advisors. When I wanted to take more than the average number of AP courses, my high school advisor strongly discouraged me from doing so, insinuating that I was setting myself up for failure. When I wanted to begin my first college science course with Genetics rather than Biology 101 (thanks to AP credits), my Biology advisor initially said it was not allowed. After deep probing, she admitted that she simply thought I could not handle the course as a freshman. Take your own counsel and seek the advice of people you trust. Talk to older brothers in your community, get advice from your parents, chat with cousins who’re successful professionally. Don’t blindly listen to designated academic advisors.

Find an interest, not a passion.

“Follow your passion” is one of the banalities you’ll undoubtedly hear when getting advice about choosing a major. Not only is it useless advice, it sets you up to fail by giving you false expectations. I guarantee you, no matter what career path you choose, there will be boredom and hard work involved. There will be times when you despise what you’re doing, times when you want to quit, and times when you wonder if you shouldn’t have chosen something else. Much like Hollywood gives us false expectations of marriage, popular “wisdom” has given us false expectations of what it takes to have a satisfying career.

That doctor who’s putting in chest tubes and intubating patients spent hours memorizing Sn1, Sn2, E1, and E2 reactions in college. The scholar who mesmerizes the audience and causes them to weep out of fear of Allah ﷻ‎  spent hours learning how to calculate zakat on livestock in Islamic seminary. The software engineer working on a cool video game spent hours trudging through books learning how to write basic code in undergrad.

Find something that interests you and you’re good at. Nurture that. Work hard at it. You will find parts boring, but work at it and become good. Soon you’ll start enjoying it. And after that, there’s a good chance you’ll become passionate about it.

Don’t do what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it

In our tight-knit communities, it’s easy to fall into the same routine as everyone else and do what everyone else is doing. But the truth is, you have your own interests, your own skills, and your own motivations. No two people are the same and what one finds engaging, the other might find revolting. Be yourself and choose something that is best for you. In the future, we hope to insha’Allah shine on a spotlight on different career paths that Muslim men are involved in, but if you don’t personally know anyone who’s not a doctor or engineer, don’t be afraid to be the first to branch out.

Get a return on your investment

Don’t choose a major without having some idea of what jobs it can get you. Remember, you’re here to gain skills to allow you to earn a halal income. If you’re picking a major because it’s interesting but you have zero clue how it’s going to get you a job, you’re not thinking with an investor’s mindset. You can go to most libraries and learn an incredible amount of knowledge on your own. Your in college for a purpose and it’s not solely to accumulate knowledge. This doesn’t mean you have to pick a major which directly leads to a specific job. However, it does mean you should do enough research that you have a very clear idea of what kind of jobs people who major in this field get out of college, how many of them struggle to find any job, and what other things you need to be doing in college with that major to maximize your chance of getting a good job once you’re done with your education.

Do your best to avoid doing only a single major in 4 years

In our next article we’ll talk about mapping your college career but for most people, doing one major in 4 years is taking college too easy. Unless you go to a school that doesn’t allow you to double major, you should add a second major or graduate in 3 years. You are literally putting your life on hold for college. You’re likely delaying marriage, definitely delaying entering the workforce, and pausing your entry into full adulthood by continuing your education. Obviously, there are good reasons for this, but at the same time, you have to make the most of the time you’re spending in college. There is no justification for wasting time in college and meandering through graduation requirements so that you end up only able to do one major in 4 years. If you’re doing one major in 4 years, you should have a very good reason for it. It should not be your default. Be efficient with your time, use the investor’s mindset.

Be good at it

At the end of the day, you have to acknowledge reality. Sometimes, you’re just not suited for a certain career path. If you struggle with basic biology and can’t for the life of you pass general chemistry, perhaps being a physician is not in your future. If you can’t make any sense of math beyond algebra, it might not be the best idea to major in engineering. There is something out there for you. Allah ﷻ‎ did not create you without also giving you skills needed to be successful at life. Find what that is and work at it.

In our next article, we’ll insha’Allah talk about mapping our your college career. In the meantime, if you haven’t read the previous articles in this series, check it out here:

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part I: Get in the right mindset

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part II: Testing out

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part III: Choosing a college

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part IV: Choosing a major

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part V: Mapping your journey

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part VI: Creating a calendar

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part VII: Going beyond the classroom

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part VIII: How to study

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part IX: Dealing with failure

The Muslim Man’s Guide to College Part X: To MSA or not to MSA?


6 Responses

  1. przm_

    Well said. When I started community college I placed into Calculus II but I was constantly told by my counselors/advisors to start in Intermediate Algebra because “college courses are more difficult”, and that I wouldn’t be able to handle being concurrently enrolled in physics, computer science, and math (I’m studying computer science and engineering). In fact, they told me I HAD to take intermediate algebra and wrote that on my career outline. If I had followed that advice I would have been stuck in community college forever. I was also told by those ‘advisors’ to only take 3 classes a semester. I still remember the day when I came home from the counselling appointment and told my father. He was shocked and told me I should be taking 5 or 6, and I should not be in such low-level classes. He took me straight back to campus and talked to the counselor and got me placed in the classes where I should’ve been. I followed my dad’s advice and took 5-6 different courses every semester. I took classes of varying difficulties from general ed classes to computer science, physics, and higher level mathematics. Did I struggle? At times, yes. Was it manageable? Yes, it was absolutely manageable with a little bit of self-control and time management. I’m now going to be completing my second year of community college where I will be taking extra courses so that I don’t have to do them at university – which means that (insha’Allah) I will have completed all my requirements for G.E. classes along with all the requirements for a lower-division computer science and engineering degree before I transfer. On top of that, I will have completed a couple math classes from upper-division which are offered at my community college, so I won’t have to do those when I transfer. I will be sending out applications in university in a month or two. I didn’t post this to brag, but to inform. My advice to everyone: Do not blindly follow the counselors’ advice like a sheep – seek help from colleagues and/or people with first-hand experience (juniors, seniors, recent grads in your field). They will tell you so much more than your counselor and will give you a different perspective – for example, I had my father who helped me. Push yourself and see how far you can go. Don’t take three classes a semester, do as many as you can (up to whatever your limitations are) – don’t settle on having an easy semester. I have several friends studying mechanical engineering, physics, and computer science/engineering who will be spending 4 years in community college before transferring because they are taking 3 classes a semester just to have an easy time. Out of all of them, only one of them (excluding me) will be transferring within the 2-year period. Don’t be those other people.

    • AnotherParaclete92

      Great advice akhi! On that topic, since I have very limited experience with community college myself, would you be interested in contributing an article on that topic? Specifically, the pros/cons of starting out in community college and important advice for people who take that route?

  2. Yusuf Ahmed

    This is the advice I wish I had acted on seven years ago, but Allahu ‘alam. I would have stayed back an extra year of high school, taken high school internships, and probably done a trade. I loved history and fitness then and have constantly worked on learning more in these areas but at that time, I just didn’t know enough to move forward as a career.

    Everything was super-rushed and I feel like people both parents and kids don’t realize how little you know about your capabilities at 17/18 years old. There are very few people these days who at that age are off their computers and phones, and are exploring their abilities and skills, putting in time into seeing how fast they can move along a learning curve of an interest.


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