How to

How to Choose a College Major

It can be very hard to decide upon a college major, whether you’re drawn to several options or you have absolutely no idea. You usually don’t need to declare right away. Remember, however, that the best way to understand your options is to explore them. Learn about the majors available to you; tune in to your dreams and passions; and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Read on for more advice!


[Edit]Exploring Your Options

  1. Do your research. If you’re going to choose a college major, you’ll need to know your options. Inform yourself about the various majors that you might possibly choose. Read about every major that sounds interesting. Read about specific jobs and how people got them. Explore forums, blogs, and university websites.
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    • If you aren’t at college yet, research common majors and what people do with them. Once you decide on a few solid choices, look for colleges that are known for strong programs in those fields.
    • If you are already at a college and you don’t want to transfer, look at the available majors that are listed on your university website.
  2. Ask for advice. Question your teachers and academic counselors about careers, majors, and the college industry. Make sure to also speak with people who know you well: your friends, parents, and relatives. These people may be able to give you valuable advice about your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t choose a major just because someone tells you to, and make sure that you take every suggestion with a grain of salt – but don’t be afraid to look for inspiration.
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    • Speak with people who have already completed certain majors. Ask for their perspective. Find out what they might do differently.
    • Talk to advisers from your chosen college. You can find a lot of information on the web about different majors. However, it’s best to talk to a professional adviser. They can help answer questions about any department that you’re considering joining.
  3. Find out how much time you have to declare a major. This varies widely from college to college. Some schools require that you decide upon a major by the time that you set foot inside your first class. Other schools may variably give you one year, two years, or more to declare. If you are uncertain, try to take your time before committing to a singular focus. If you have the freedom to explore, take the opportunity to sample a wide variety of courses and majors that catch your eye![1]
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  4. Consider whether you’re ready for college. If you don’t have a major or a goal in mind, college can be a very expensive way to find yourself. Think about taking a gap year, working full-time, or fulfilling your general education requirements at a community college before committing to a four-year degree. You can save money and travel the world; you can volunteer or work abroad; you can audit classes for free, or attend school part-time; you can try to join the workforce in a field that sounds interesting, then use that experience to inform your college major decision. Do it your way![2]
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    • Remember that you don’t need to go to college right away just because a lot of other people are doing it. Consider whether you are being shepherded into this. Do you know what you want to get out of your college experience? Is it your choice, or is it your parents’?

[Edit]Narrowing it Down

  1. Trust your gut. There are probably a few majors that jump out at you from the start. Begin by exploring what it might mean to pursue those degrees. If you love to write, then it is natural to gravitate toward a creative writing degree, or toward another of the humanities. If you love to solve problems, then you might find yourself drawn to engineering or the sciences. Let the answer be simple: think about what you already love to do.
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    • On the other hand, you may find your calling in a major that you initially dismiss. You may not discover your love for economics until you take an introductory econ class. Trust your gut, but keep an open mind.
    • It can be hard to trust your gut when you are drawn to several different majors. What if you can see yourself happily majoring in Biology, Music, or Computer Science? Remember that you can always mix majors and minors. You can even choose a double major, if you’re up to the challenge!
  2. Think about your purpose. Ask yourself where you want to be in five years. Consider the sort of life that you want to live. What is important to you? Perhaps you want to make a lot of money; fight climate change; write a novel; work with numbers, or work with people; change the world, or just make a living. You may not have a lot of concrete answers, but it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about this.[3]
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    • Research the job market. If your top priority is finding a job quickly upon graduation, then it might help to find out which jobs are in high demand. Try to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  3. Audit classes. “Auditing” is the act of enrolling in a class without taking a grade or credit for the work.[4] No matter whether you are actively enrolled at a particular college, or finishing up high school, or not in school at all: visit a university and sit in on a few courses that sound interesting. Find specific classes in the “courses” or “undergraduate programs” section of the university website. Email the instructor and ask about auditing. In many cases, you’ll be able to sit in on a class for an entire semester, for free, as long as you stay engaged and don’t disrupt the professor.[5]
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    • The instructor’s name and contact information should be listed on the website alongside the course description. If you can’t find the contact information, search the department website or run a web search for the professor.
    • If a school has very large lectures—hundreds of people in one room—you might not even need to reach out to the professor. Accompany a friend to a big lecture, or just filter in with the enrolled crowd. This can be a great, free way to feel out a course.

[Edit]Making a Decision

  1. Declare a major. Most colleges have some deadline by which point you must officially choose a major. This may be one year, two years, or more. It is good to be intentional about this decision, and to choose a major that you like. However, you may find that the act of declaring a focus makes it much easier to see what you want and don’t want. Once you’ve spent a semester taking classes and trying to work toward a certain major, you’ll have a much better idea of what it means to pursue that degree.[6]
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    • Choose something that excites you. Don’t just pick a major at random from the catalog. Be honest with yourself, and give it a real shot.
  2. Recognize that this decision may not be final. Once you choose a major, you’ve effectively stated your purpose, and you’ve given yourself a track for moving forward in college. You have not, however, locked yourself into anything irreversible. Many people change their majors several times before they settle upon something. Some people even go back for a second degree. Try to keep perspective.[7]
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  3. Keep your eyes open. Remember that you can always change course! If you aren’t happy with the major that you pick, you can switch to something more fulfilling. If your college doesn’t offer the major that you want, you can always transfer to another school. There is always a way out. Don’t be afraid to dive into a major that interests you, even if you aren’t 100 percent certain.
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    • You may find that it’s easy to switch between similar majors. For instance, many classes may overlap between the English degree path and the Comparative Literature path. You may find a lot of common ground between the Biology track and the Environmental Science track.[8]
    • The general education requirements (GEs) are usually fairly similar across a “department” or “school” within a university. For instance, many of the introductory classes for the Mechanical Engineering track probably apply to other tracks within the engineering department. Biology, Chemistry, and Physics degree paths often require some mixture of the same introductory science courses.
  4. Refine your major. Many college degrees organize classes and students under broad themes and concepts, giving you plenty of room to define your own focus. Choose a concentration within the major. Supplement with a double major, if you can handle the workload. Pursue a minor (or two!) that gives you an outlet for your other interests. Don’t be afraid to engage with a degree path and make it your own.
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  • Do research in the field you’re interested in.
  • Remember that if you want to change your mind, you can. Many college students switch majors. It’s part of the process.
  • Ask yourself, “Where do I see myself in 5 years?” If you have an idea of where you want to be, then you can start to figure out how to get there. And that is what choosing a college major will help you to do.
  • Take your time. Don’t just choose a major for sake of picking something. Consider what you really want, and whether you’re even ready for college. Otherwise, you might end up wasting a lot of time and money on an education you don’t need.
  • Talk it out. Discuss your choices with family and friends. They may be able to give you some solid advice and insight.

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