A small selection of potential college majors--from engineering to literature

Choosing a major can be a huge part of your overall college plan. Knowing what you want to study can narrow down the college search.

But with literally hundreds of majors to choose from, it can be hard to decide. The following are some things to consider when picking a major.

What do you want to do with your college degree?

  • Consider majors related to the field you want to go into

The most obvious thing to consider is what you’d like to do after college. If there’s a specialized field you want to pursue, or even a specific career–like social work or engineering–it makes the decision a lot simpler.

As a high school student (or as a college freshman) you don’t necessarily need to know exactly what you want to major in., but having a career in mind can guide your search.

Not sure what career you’re interested in? No problem — you can still narrow down your search for the right college major. ACT offers a free career and major search that matches you to fields based on your personality.

Keep in mind that some professions–like medicine and law–don’t have specific majors (that’s right, pre-med and pre-law aren’t majors!). Instead, interested students follow a pre-professional track which fulfills certain core requirements.

What’s important to you? How can it lead to a college major?

  • Educate yourself about the earning potential of different majors
  • If you decide to study a subject because it’s interesting, be realistic about job outlook

If the amount of money you’ll make after college is important to you, research the highest earning majors. Career-oriented majors tend to be more lucrative (in terms of income) than traditional liberals arts and sciences tracks.

Chart showing different careers and their unemployment rates and degree requirements.

Maybe you’re more driven by a passion for a less career-oriented subject. Liberal arts and sciences majors can be rewarding, but finding a job after college may require more work. Students with these degrees often end up going to graduate school–consider whether this is a viable option for you.

What are your strengths?

  • Pick a major that uses your strengths
  • Use high school classes as a guide to determine your strengths

Maybe you always perform well in math classes–maybe you’re more literary. Subjects can be a bit different in college than they were in high school, but you can still use them as a guide.

The happiest college students choose majors in which they have some skill and interest. Be honest with yourself, and pick a field in which you’ll excel.

If you’re not sure what your exact strengths are, try a variety of subjects your freshman year. You’ll quickly get a feel for your skills.

Is there a general field that stands out to you?

  • Switching majors is easier if the two majors are similar
  • Most majors require you to take courses from similar majors–so you can get a feel for many concentrations in a single field

Want to study business but not sure whether you’ll focus on finance or marketing? Choosing a general field of study will make college planning easier. Switching among majors in the same field is less likely to affect your graduation time.

Most majors require students to take courses from other, similar disciplines. Narrowing your choice to an area of study (such as business) will allow you to take classes that help you choose a major but still count toward your graduation requirements.

Your choice of major isn’t set in stone. When all is said and done, most students end up switching majors at least once. But, thinking about it now can help you choose a college and plan for the future.