Types of Undergraduate Majors in College

Last updated: Oct 15, 2018

When you were a child, people asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Here’s a grown-up version of that question, the one college students get: “Have you picked a major?” If your answer is no, you might be asking, “What are the types of undergraduate majors in college?”

Student talking to a teacher about college majors

What Are My Choices?

There are well over a thousand options people have when choosing an undergraduate degree. One online site lists more than 1,800 majors, from agriculture to visual arts. These postsecondary degrees, associate and bachelor’s, are the step after high school diplomas and before a master’s degree.

The two basic types of undergraduate degrees are:

  • Associate degrees, which typically are earned at community colleges and vocational or technical schools, include the Associate of Applied Technology (AAT), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), Associate of Applied Arts (AAA), and Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS).
  • Bachelor’s degrees, which are the mainstay of four-year colleges and universities, include the Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Science (BS), and Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS).

The primary types of associate degrees are occupational, which prepare the student for a trade or profession, and the transfer, which is a general education stepping stone to a four-year school or degree. 

All undergraduate degrees require general education courses such as math, English, history, and science. The degree’s label (agriculture, visual arts) determines the focus of studies.

The bachelor’s degree process, beyond being defined by a focus on social sciences and humanities (BA) or life and/or physical sciences or math (BS), requires selection of a major, or specialty, that dictates upper-division courses.

The popularity of majors is driven by facets ranging from pay scale to job availability and current events.  Here’s a recent top 10 list of majors:

10. Biology
9. Chemical engineering
8. Nursing
7. Psychology
6. English language and literature
5. Economics
4. Business
3. Government/political science
2. Communications
1. Computer science

When it comes to choosing, the typical first step is toward either a degree in the liberal arts or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). That means weighing in on a long-running debate over the pros and cons of both that will still be running long after you have your degree in hand.

Student reviewing majors online

Common Questions About Undergraduate Majors

If you have a major picked out, or at least know your skills and talents, it’s easier to narrow your list of target schools to those that meet your needs. Regardless of where you are in the process, it is guaranteed to raise these questions:

When Do I Have to Choose a Major?

Different schools have different rules. For some, a choice is required at enrollment, such as the selection of an undergraduate division, college, or major. Most schools are satisfied with undeclared status at enrollment and a choice of majors in the sophomore or junior year.

If the school you want requires you pick a major when you apply, among the most important factors to consider is whether the decision is binding or nonbinding.

How Do I Choose a Major?

There is no single process for choosing a major, but knowing what you are passionate about is a good start. Beyond knowing what you love to do and where your talents lie, considerations include goals related to pay, career requirements and demands, job availability, and overall life objectives.

What If I Change My Mind?

U.S. Department of Education data points from the past decade indicate 30 percent of undergraduates change their majors and that 1 in 10 do so more than once.

The ramifications of changing majors, including costs, depend on the academic flexibility of the school you choose and how many credits you accumulate before the change that won’t support your new degree choice. At worst, the degree process could be lengthened, making it more expensive, and you might have to switch schools.

Degree Shuffle Has Major and Minor Benefits

One byproduct of switching majors is the potential for graduating with a dual degree or double major, especially if you are within striking distance of a degree when you make the change.

Another benefit of exploring degree options through classes is the potential to apply the credits earned toward a declared minor. It’s important to weigh your options and talk with your advisor as you choose your college major.

If you have questions about undergraduate majors or concentrations at USF, the Office of Admissions is always ready with answers. You can contact us online or by phone at 813-974-3350.