From accounting to zoology, there is a vast range to choose from when selecting a college major. It can be overwhelming — especially if you aren’t sure what to pick.
Before we get into tips and tricks for selecting a college major, let’s cover the basics.
What Is a Major?
Your college major is a specialized area of study. In addition to general educational requirements, you take classes in your chosen major to gain advanced knowledge in that area. Between one-third and one-half of the classes you’ll take in college will be in your major or related to it.
When Do You Declare Your Major?
While you can list your expected major on your college application, you don’t have to formally declare a major until the end of your sophomore year or the beginning of your junior year. You’ll have time to try different classes and explore your interests before fully committing to a major.
How Important Is Your College Major?
Your major is not the end-all-be-all when it comes to your future success. Many people end up pursuing careers that are unrelated to their major.
However, if you plan on attending medical school or another professional program after earning your bachelor’s degree, your major can be a vital part of preparing you for what’s next.
What you major in can also set the foundation for future career paths based on the knowledge and skills you gain. Certain entry-level jobs also may require or highly prefer specific degrees, such as engineering or architecture.
Tips for Choosing a College Major
When it comes to selecting your college major, here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
Find Your Interests and Passions
Before you choose a college major, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your top 10 interests?
- What’s your passion?
- What classes do you like?
- What subjects do you spend your time reading about?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Think about what you want to learn more about on a deeper level, as that is what you will be doing with your chosen major. If you choose something you enjoy, chances are you’ll be more engaged in your classes and therefore more successful.
“Consider your strengths and preferences,” advises Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, a job platform for college students. “Where do you thrive and do your best? Figuring out your unique skill set can help inform what areas of study may be of interest to you.”
If you aren’t sure what your interests are, know that you’ll be able to explore a variety of classes at the beginning of your college career. You may find that you’re passionate about something you had never encountered before you started college!
Evaluate Career Prospects
Your major should align with future job opportunities, so it’s essential to consider what it will be like to pursue a career in the paths you’re interested in. In addition to earning potential, job growth, educational requirements, and skills are all relevant factors in determining what could be a good fit for you. How competitive will it be to find a job? Will your degree make you a desirable job candidate?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop are both excellent resources that can help answer these questions. You can find information such as job responsibilities, outlooks, educational requirements, and in-demand skills.
Research Earning Potential
Some majors have higher starting salaries than others, which can have long-lasting effects. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the top-paying college majors earn $3.4 million more than the lowest-paying majors over a lifetime.
What comes out on top? The center found that the highest paying majors are health, business, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), leading to average annual wages of $37,000 or more at the entry level and an average of $65,000 or more annually throughout a recipient’s career.
Money isn’t everything, but it’s worth thinking about the return on investment you’ll receive from your undergraduate degree, especially if you are taking out student loans to help pay for it. The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center provides many tools for calculating college costs, such as the Net Price Calculator.
Decide How Much Time You Want to Dedicate to School
Some majors, like pre-med, require significantly more work than others. How much time do you want to commit to your training, and how dedicated of a student will you be? Will you be able to attend school full-time and devote all your time to your classes, or will you need to work a part-time job to manage your expenses? These are questions to ask as you consider what major is right for your future lifestyle.
Seek a Second Opinion
If you aren’t sure what to do, talking to a parent, teacher, or friend can help you get a second perspective. Someone who knows you well can provide insight into what may be a good fit for you.
In addition, an academic advisor can help look at your academic record, extracurricular activities, and other interests and help you determine what will be best.
Do you know anyone who has earned a degree that you’re interested in, or has a career that intrigues you? Ask them about their experience and if they are happy with their choice.
Take Online Quizzes
Online quizzes can be a fun and helpful way to guide your thoughts on which major is right for you. While you should take the results with a grain of salt, quizzes are a great way to get you thinking about the options.
Here are a few quizzes to check out:
- College Major Quiz
- Career Quiz
- College Major Quiz
- This Comprehensive Quiz Will Determine Your Ideal College Major
Starting your research early on allows you the time to consider different areas of interest before you have to declare a major in college formally.
Before college, you can take course electives, interview people, and pursue activities like volunteering and part-time jobs to help discover what majors interest you.
You should especially plan ahead if you are interested in a specific long-term investment, such as medical school, law school, pharmacy school, or some other form of graduate or professional education.
Select Schools and Programs Wisely
Make sure the colleges you’re applying to offer what you’re interested in. You can research specific rankings for different programs, such as business or engineering, to find the best colleges for what you want to major in.
If you are interested in several different disciplines, consider colleges that offer good programs in some or all of the areas you are contemplating. Then if you decide to switch your major, you won’t need to transfer schools to receive a quality education. USF, for example, has over 200 undergraduate majors, allowing you to explore a large variety of interests.
Don’t Ignore the Downsides
After you’ve narrowed down your list of majors, consider the potential downsides of each one. While it may feel negative to do this, it will help you weigh the pros and cons if you are choosing between a few different options and allow you to gain a realistic picture of what you can expect.
Don’t Let Other People Decide for You
While you may experience parental pressure to choose a particular major or path, it’s essential to trust your instincts and decide what’s best for you. If you let other people make that choice, you could regret what you chose. Your education is a significant investment, and you need to be in the driver’s seat regarding critical decisions like your major.
Don’t Decide Solely Based on Income
Your degree is a considerable investment, and earning power is a significant factor in choosing your college major. However, you don’t want to choose only based on income potential. Instead, reflect on what you’re interested in and what will make you happy long term.
Don’t Select a Major Without Having an End Goal
You may not know your end goal when you start college. However, doing some research and due diligence is essential in choosing a major and starting on a path paved with proactivity and goals. Even if you end up changing your mind, selecting a major based on some idea of what you want to accomplish will help you be specific in setting your intentions and selecting your courses once you start college.
What Happens If I Change My Mind?
It’s perfectly acceptable to change your major in college. In fact, a lot of students change their major at least once, and some end up switching several times. The important thing is to stay in communication with your counselor to ensure your schedule is set up so that you can graduate on time with your new major.
What Happens If You Can’t Decide?
If you can’t choose a major before college, it’s not the end of the world. It’s actually quite common to apply to college as an undecided major. If you decide to apply undecided, make sure intentionally diversify your interests and explore different subjects so you can determine your major by the end of your sophomore year.
Minors and Double Majors
If you want to pursue interests in addition to your selected major, you can minor in a subject or do a double major.
What Is a Minor?
A minor allows you to explore a second area of interest without committing to a major’s full course load. A minor is typically around 18-30 credits and does not provide the in-depth knowledge that a major gives. A minor can add another area of expertise to your resume and often does not interfere with graduating on time.
What Is a Double Major?
A double major allows you to pursue and complete two different majors simultaneously. Your two majors can be in subjects that complement each other, such as business and marketing, or in two distinct areas, such as music and psychology. Read more on the pros and cons of having a double major.
Choosing Your College Major
When it comes to choosing your college major, it’s not always straightforward. There are many factors to consider, from career opportunities to what you’re passionate about. To get started on your planning, download our college planning worksheet below.
About Haley DeLeon
Haley DeLeon is a content developer with extensive experience in the higher education sector. She is passionate about creating content that helps students and their families throughout the admissions journey.