How to Choose a College Major

Future aspirations: How to choose a major in college even if you don’t know what you want to do

How to choose a college major:

  • Start with your passions and choose a general direction.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your mind later. Most students do.
  • For pre-professional programs, consider your undergraduate options carefully.
  • Consider the downside to any major or career path.

Do you remember being a kid and having someone ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? You might have given a whimsical answer like “unicorn” or a practical one like “nurse.” But now, as you prepare for college, that childhood question is quickly turning into a reality.

Figuring out what to choose as a major in college may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be a difficult decision (or even a permanent one). And you don’t need to feel like you should know your college major before you submit your college applications. We know what you might be thinking… you (or your parents) are spending a tremendous amount of money on college, shouldn’t you at least have an idea of your area of study?

The answer is, “no, not necessarily.”

You don’t have to determine your life’s path before starting college. Choosing a college major is challenging for many 18-year-olds, especially if you’re unaware of all the possibilities. In fact, do you know what the most popular college major among incoming freshmen is?

Undecided.

Image of ad to help choose a college major.

That’s right, tons of students entering college agree that they’re not in a position to make this kind of commitment yet. They feel like they don’t know how to pick a college major, and among those who do have a major selected, many change their minds.

So, just because you don’t have a clear direction now, doesn’t mean you can’t create one. Now that the pressure’s off, here is our guide to making an informed decision about your college major.

1. Find a General Direction

Choosing which college you want to go to is often dependent on how much it costs and what academic majors it offers. But if you don’t know what to major in, how do you choose? The answer lies in knowing yourself. You need to have a general idea of:

  • what kind of environment suits you well
  • where your strengths and weaknesses lie
  • what are your likes and dislikes?

While you may not have a specific field of study in mind, do you know what sparks your passion enough to make a career of it?

Spend some time thinking about what you enjoy and what you are good at. Eliminate what you aren’t interested in learning and explore what you are. Often, students select a major once they’ve taken a course that inspires them. Others participate in internships that capture their enthusiasm. Keep an open mind and avoid the pressure to choose before you are ready.

2. Remember, The Route May Not Seem Logical

Perhaps you’ve known since you were young that you wanted to be a doctor. Your family is well aware of your aspirations, and when asked about your college major, you confidently respond with “pre-med,” thinking this will fast-track you to medical school. However, that’s not entirely accurate.

The “pre-professional programs,” as they’re collectively known, are not actual college majors. Instead, they serve as advising programs for students aspiring to enter professional schools. These programs have dedicated advisers who ensure you are on the right track, taking the necessary coursework, and earning the grades required to turn your dream into reality. They also offer services like mock professional school interviews, information on standardized testing for professional schools, internship opportunities, and more.

So, if you don’t major in pre-[insert the name of the profession], what will you study? Well, you can major in almost anything, as long as you take specific core courses (which your pre-professional adviser will guide you on) or develop essential skills, like critical thinking and writing, necessary for certain professional paths, such as law school. It’s crucial to have these conversations with both your high school adviser and college adviser.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different

Choosing a unique college major can actually enhance your appeal as a candidate for professional schools. As long as you’ve completed the required coursework, you can major in a field that isn’t directly related to the professional school you plan to attend. Consider how many law school applicants have majored in areas such as environmental studies, a foreign language, or music. Similarly, MBA seekers might have pursued majors in education or psychology instead of traditional business or marketing fields.

As you move forward, focus on understanding the requirements for your desired profession and aligning them with your interests. These two aspects don’t have to be mutually exclusive or necessarily identical.

4. Consider the Big Picture

Major life decisions are rarely easy, so it’s crucial to thoroughly consider all variables. Take, for example, the dream of becoming a doctor. While the idea of bringing joy and relief to patients is appealing, have you contemplated the broader aspects of being a doctor? Consider the reality of most patient interactions occurring in brief 10-minute intervals. How do you feel about the administrative burdens, government regulations, and the potential influence of legal concerns on your decision-making process? It’s essential to weigh the big picture before committing to such a significant career path.

On the other hand, maybe you’d rather be a teacher, nurturing a classroom of bright faces eager to learn. However, many in the profession will tell you that’s not always the case. Mandatory standardized testing, heavy government regulations, and decreased budgets can limit the creativity you might bring to the classroom. Your class, often large due to funding limitations, may have a variety of special needs students. If you have the patience, creativity, and dedication to weather all the variables that being a teacher brings, then you know it’s the right decision for you.

Or, would you rather start your own business? An overflowing bank account, a reliable team, and loyal customers are possible but not without pitfalls. You’ll have to foot the bill for overhead costs and may be unable to pay yourself for the first few years. Firing people, dealing with resignations, and managing unreliable team members are challenges you might face. Not everyone will like what you sell, and that’s alright. As long as you are prepared for these situations, you could be a successful entrepreneur.

In the end, do you research and choose a college major with realistic expectations. That will help you enjoy your work while navigating the inevitable challenges you will face. Remember that not knowing right now is alright, as long as you are actively seeking a path that will make you successful in college.

Consider your interests and strengths, and be open to exploring other fields of study. If you’re still wondering what to major in college, our Career Finder tool can help you plan your career and decide which major is best for you!