How Do I Choose a College Major?

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

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

Choosing a college major can be a huge part of your overall college plan, and 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! Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This guide will cover what you should be asking yourself and the basics of choosing your major.

How to Choose Your College Major – Questions You Should Ask

The following questions are excellent starting points to help you choose! We recommend answering all the questions even if you believe you know exactly what you want to do for a career after college as you might uncover some important information about yourself.

What Are My Career Goals After Graduation?

First, start with what you want 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. You can explore the majors related and needed for those careers and decide on one that fits you best!

In addition, we recommend job shadowing if you have a career already in mind. This is where you follow someone in your potential field and see what they do in their day-to-day work. Many of the positions we see in the media are glorified and not what daily life works like in a career. You don’t want to go into a field with a romanticized view and discover it’s nothing like you imagined!

Also keep in mind that some jobs will require additional education after your bachelor’s degree. You might have to go to graduate school. Are you willing to put in the work after the four years to earn the future degrees you will need for your dream job? And some professions, like medicine and law, don’t have specific majors. Pre-med and pre-law actually aren’t majors. Students instead follow a pre-professional track which fulfills certain core requirements.

What’s Important to Me?

If you’re stumped on a career that would fit you, are torn between a few, and just aren’t sure on the major, ask yourself what’s important to you. Consider subjects that interest you, earning potentials, job outlooks, and more. What do you want to achieve after graduation outside of your job title? You can think about stability, salary goals, home ownership, travel, moving, and more. This can help provide direction on the best careers (and majors) that will help you meet those goals.

Keep in mind that certain majors and career fields do absolutely have higher earning potential than others.

What Am I Interested In?

Of course, you should also consider your interests! What subjects have always held your interests? Maybe you’ve held onto that fascination in dinosaurs since you were four. Or maybe you developed an intense interest in writing during your last two years of high school. Perhaps, when your family was eating dinner, you were coming up with math equations to solve on scraps of paper in between bites.

Think back to what’s fascinated you over the years and what you’ve done in your free time! This could point you in the direction of the perfect major (and career) for you. The happiest college students are studying something they’re interested in. Those who select a major that they have no passion for may instead experience burnout.

And even if you enter college without a declared major, just having your interests in mind can help. Start taking general education requirements that interest you. You could find the area of study that calls to you in one of these classes!

What Are My Strengths and Weaknesses?

Of course, you want a major that plays to your strengths. Looking at your past achievements, including grades in high school, can help you determine your strengths as well as your weaknesses. If you want to pursue a particular major, you need to be confident in your ability to perform well in the classes.

Being honest with yourself is essential, too. You may love math, but if you simply struggle in the classes, it may not be the best major for you.

Educating Yourself on the Majors Available

There are more majors to choose from than many people realize. Some colleges even offer areas of study that no other school in the country (or world) offer. It’s important to properly educate yourself on the many majors available.

In order to properly explore all options, you should:

  • Schedule a meeting with your high school guidance counselor
  • Talk over your major and career goals with your college academic adviser
  • Visit your college’s career services
  • Use the ACT’s advice on careers and majors that best suit your personality
  • Explore College Major tools

When Do You Have to Choose a Major?

When you have to choose a major depends on the college and the area of study. A majority of colleges and programs simply require you to select your major by the end of your sophomore year or the beginning of your junior year.

However, some colleges do require you to declare a major when you apply to the school, especially for their more competitive programs. For example, engineering programs are generally difficult to get into.

As such, they have higher admission requirements. For these types of programs, you will have to declare your major in your application in order to be considered.

What if You Change Your Mind?

Your major is not written in stone. Many students actually change their area of study after a year or two at school. It’s okay to change your mind, even if you declared a major when you applied to the school. You simply will have to talk to your academic advisor and department heads to make the change.

There can be some restrictions, however, when you go to change. You might not be allowed to enter those competitive programs, for instance. And not all colleges have all majors available. If you’re an English major and you’re thinking about switching to Zoology, your current school may not have Zoology available. The closest option is Biology. You will then have to make a choice: do you want to stay in English, major in Biology, or switch to a school that offers Zoology?

For other students who change their major, there can be some overlap. Switching from Marketing to Finance, for example, is not as drastic as English to Zoology. There are likely classes you took that are required in both areas of study, which means you wouldn’t have wasted as much time.

Changing your college major…

however, is a big decision, especially if you already have some major requirements under your belt. You should carefully weigh the pros and cons of this choice. Note though that changing your major, especially late in the game, may require you to attend college for more than 4 years. But if you’re simply not enjoying the classes or subject matter like you thought you would, going in a different direction may be the best choice for your future.

Declaring your major is an important step in your education, and it can be extremely stressful. It’s okay to be unsure, especially early on. You have time to make this decision. It’s important though to carefully weigh your options, interests, strengths, and weaknesses before choosing.

Exploring options when it comes to areas of study is an essential part of this process. Our college Major tool helps you search and learn about hundreds of different majors. You can discover what each area of study is about and explore some of the best colleges and universities across the United States for each major. Once you find the best major for you, too, you can then use our College Match to see your acceptance chances to those schools!

2 thoughts on “How Do I Choose a College Major?”

  1. Maggie Allen says:

    This is some great data for helping people pick a major! In fact, I think my daughter would benefit a lot from this. She’s a senior in high school, and is trying to figure out what she wants to do. She’s really interested in health, but I don’t think she knows that graduating with that major gives you only a 3% unemployment rate. An unemployment rate that low is really nice to have! Now my daughter just needs to figure out which college to go to!

  2. Zasham says:

    This article is very valuable for engineering students.I advice my students to follow your passion.If you don’t have any interest to work in a particular industry you won’t be able to survive there.I recommend students to engage in engineering projects and take some exposure to the industry because theoretical knowledge is not enough to carry on in the industry.I recommend my students to read this article.Thank you for publishing.

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