Deciding the answer to “What should I major in?” is a critical decision that can have a significant impact on your future career prospects. With so many choices available, it can be overwhelming to determine the right path to pursue after high school. It’s natural to feel uncertain about which career path to take and to experience conflict between personal aspirations and the expectations of others. In fact, research from Ellucian shows that almost two-thirds of college students feel overwhelmed by selecting a major, while 51% change their major at least once.
The process of choosing a major and future career can be overwhelming, but with the right method and mindset, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your personal aspirations and career goals. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how to approach this decision and feel more confident in your ability to choose a college major that’s right for you.
What Is a Major and Minor in College?
A major is a specific area of study that students choose to specialize in and focus on throughout their undergraduate education. It typically involves completing a set of courses and requirements within a particular field, such as biology, psychology, or computer science. Declaring a major is an important step in the college experience, as it sets the foundation for a student’s academic and professional goals.
A double major is an undergraduate academic program in which a student completes two separate majors, usually in different fields of study, and earns a single bachelor’s degree upon graduation. In a double major program, the student must fulfill the requirements of both majors, which often includes completing a certain number of courses and credits in each major.
A minor, on the other hand, is a secondary area of study that students can choose to complement their major. A minor typically involves completing a smaller set of requirements within a particular field of study, and is often seen as a way to broaden a student’s academic experience and knowledge. While not always required, completing a minor can demonstrate to employers or graduate programs that a student has a diverse range of skills and interests.
How to Declare a Major or Minor
To declare a major or minor, students typically need to meet with an academic advisor or college counselor to discuss their options and create a plan for completing the required coursework.
The specific process for declaring a major or minor can vary depending on the institution, but it generally involves:
- Completing specific prerequisites before declaring a major or minor.
- Submitting a declaration form to the appropriate department or office.
- Meeting certain GPA requirements.
- Staying on track with coursework.
- Maintaining regular communication with your advisor to ensure you’re making progress toward your academic goals.
How to Choose a Major: 10 Ways to Narrow Down Your Field of Study
1. Take a variety of classes
One of the most important things you can do when trying to choose a major in college is to take a variety of classes. As Stanford Undergrad Academic Advising suggests: “Taking classes outside your expected major helps you make sure that this is the major you actually want to pursue. And the process of switching majors can feel much easier and less stressful if you’ve already taken a few classes in your new field.” By exposing yourself to different subjects, you can gain a better understanding of what you enjoy and what you don’t. Taking classes in different fields can also help determine which subjects come naturally to you and which require more effort.
To get started:
- Meet with an academic advisor to discuss your course options.
- Research different departments and course offerings.
- Attend a class on a subject you’re curious about.
2. Explore internships and job shadowing opportunities
Hands-on experience is a great way to determine if a particular field is a good fit for you. Internships and job shadowing opportunities allow you to gain valuable insight into what it’s like to work in a particular field. Research from Prospects shows that 64 percent of new college students cited not having enough work experience as a roadblock to finding a job. However, when you take on an internship, you gain valuable insight into the day-to-day tasks involved, the skills required, and the overall work environment for the job you’re pursuing.
To get an internship and increase your work experience:
- Research companies and organizations that align with your interests.
- Reach out to your college’s career center to find out about internship opportunities.
- Network with professionals in fields that interest you.
3. Meet with a career counselor
Career counselors are a valuable resource when it comes to choosing a major. They can help you explore your interests and skills, as well as the different majors and career paths available to you. Additionally, a career counselor can provide guidance and resources to help you make an informed decision.
To meet with a career advisor:
- Schedule an appointment with a career counselor at your college or university.
- Be prepared to discuss your interests, skills, and values.
- Ask for resources to help you research different majors and careers.
4. Talk to professors and peers
Talking to professors in different departments and peers can give you valuable insight into different majors. Professors can provide information about their fields and what to expect from coursework. Peers can share their own experiences and perspectives. Before choosing a major, it’s important to gather as much information as possible before making a decision.
Ideas for discussing your potential major with professors and students:
- Attend office hours to talk to professors about their departments.
- Reach out to classmates who are majoring in subjects that interest you.
- Join clubs or organizations related to potential majors.
5. Consider your long-term goals
When choosing a major, it’s important to consider your long-term goals. What do you hope to achieve with your degree? How does your major align with your values and aspirations? Thinking about your long-term goals can help you choose a major that will set you up for success.
The best way to do this is to schedule time to think about the vision you have for your life and reverse-engineer it into long-term, actionable goals. As self-made millionaire Marie Forleo explains, “You don’t have to map out every single step. Instead, use simple, clear baby steps.” Doing so will point you in the right direction and help you determine what to study.
To get clear on what your major should be:
- Reflect on your personal and professional aspirations.
- Research careers and industries that align with your values.
- Consider the financial feasibility of potential majors.
6. Keep an open mind
When it comes to picking a major, it’s important to keep an open mind. Don’t let your fear of failure hold you back from exploring majors that you feel might challenge you. You may be surprised by what you enjoy or what you’re good at. Trying new things and stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to new opportunities and experiences. Additionally, don’t feel pressured to stick to one major for the entirety of your college career. Research from the Education Advisory Board (EAB) found that switching majors actually leads to a higher graduation rate, which is why it’s important to explore various interests when receiving an education.
To explore different majors:
- Take classes in subjects you’ve never considered before.
- Attend events and workshops related to different fields.
- Be open to exploring new interests and passions.
7. Conduct informational interviews
Informational interviews can be a great way to learn about potential careers. Reach out to professionals in fields that interest you and ask them about their jobs, the skills they use, and how they got into that field. You can gain valuable insight into different career paths and start building your professional network this way, too.
Steps to take when doing an interview:
- Research professionals in fields that interest you.
- Reach out to them via email or LinkedIn to request an informational interview.
- Come prepared with thoughtful questions to ask during the interview.
- Take notes during the interview and reflect on whether the career path is a good fit for you.
- Thank the person for their time and send a handwritten thank you note, if possible.
8. Consider the job market
While you shouldn’t base your entire decision on the job market, it’s important to be aware of which majors and careers are in demand. By considering the job market, you can make a more informed decision about your major and career path. Doing research on job outlooks and average salaries for different majors and careers can help you determine the financial feasibility of your chosen path.
Take these steps before choosing a major:
- Research job outlooks and average salaries for different majors and careers using resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and job search websites.
- Talk to professionals in the fields you’re interested in to get a sense of what the job market is like.
- Use your research to determine whether your chosen major is likely to lead to a fulfilling and financially stable career.
- Consider industries that are growing and may have a higher demand for employees.
9. Attend career fairs
Attending career fairs can be a great way to learn about potential job opportunities and make connections with professionals in your desired field. Career fairs provide an opportunity to learn about different companies and industries. They also allow you to meet with recruiters, business entities, and professionals you’d like to potentially work alongside.
To explore your major through career fairs:
- Find out when career fairs are happening on your campus or in your community.
- Prepare for the career fair by researching the companies and organizations that will be in attendance.
- Dress professionally and bring copies of your resume to give to recruiters.
10. Take a career assessment test
Career assessment tests can help you identify your strengths, interests, and values and match them to potential career paths. Some tests are available online for free, while others can be taken through career services at your college or university. If you want to explore career aptitude and personality tests now, try these free ones from Truity.
To take a deeper dive into career options:
- Research career assessment tests to find one that is reputable and fits your needs.
- Take the assessment test and review the results with a career counselor or advisor.
- Use the results to identify potential career paths that align with your strengths, interests, and values.
Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing a Major
What do you do if you need to change your major later on?
Still not sure how to answer the question, “What should I study in college?” If you find yourself in a situation where you need to change your major later on, don’t worry—this is highly common among students during their first few years in college. An academic counselor should be able to guide you through the process, but here is how to get the ball rolling:
- Assess your reasons for wanting to change: Before making any decisions, take some time to think about why you want to change your major. Is it because you’ve lost interest in your current major or because you’ve discovered a new passion? Understanding your reasons for wanting to switch can help you determine whether changing your major is the right choice for you.
- Meet with your academic advisor: Your academic advisor is there to help you navigate your academic journey, so don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting with them to discuss your options. They can help you explore different majors, determine which courses you’ve already taken will transfer, and help you plan out the rest of your college career.
- Research your options: Once you’ve talked to your academic advisor, do some research on your own to explore different majors and career paths. Look at course requirements, career opportunities, and the job market to determine which majors might be a good fit for your interests and goals.
- Take action: A part of personal growth and developing into a strong future leader (no matter your major) is taking action to make things happen. Once you’ve determined which major you want to switch to, take action to make it happen. This might involve filling out paperwork, applying to a new program, or meeting with a new advisor. Stay organized and keep track of deadlines and requirements to make sure the process goes smoothly.
What is the timeline for choosing a major?
- Take general education classes that will fulfill the obligations of most majors.
- Have an idea of what you want to study by the end of your freshman year.
- Some majors, such as engineering or pre-med, have more rigorous requirements and may require you to start planning earlier in order to graduate on time. Keep this in mind if you decide to go this route in college.
- Talk to your academic advisor about declaring a major.
- Continue exploring your interests and change your major if you need to.
- By the end of the year, have a more concrete plan in place.
- Take classes that will complete the necessary coursework for your chosen major.
- Actively pursue courses that will complete the requirements needed for your major and degree.
- Limit the amount of electives you take so that you can focus on graduation the following year.
- Establish a graduation date goal.
- Meet with your academic advisor at the beginning of the year to discuss your timeline for graduation.
- Spend your last year completing all the coursework necessary to graduate on time.
- Stay in contact with your advisor and meet with them regularly to ensure you are on track for your target graduation date.
It’s never too late to switch majors if you discover that your current major is not the right fit for you. Many students change their majors in their junior or senior year, and universities typically have resources in place to help facilitate the transition. It’s important to talk to your academic advisor and career services center if you are considering changing your major, as they can provide you with information about the requirements for different majors and the potential impact on your graduation timeline.
Can you change your major?
Yes, but the later you wait, the harder it will be to graduate on time. This is because you may have completed a lot of coursework in your original major that may not apply to your new major. You may also have to spend extra time and money to complete additional coursework to fulfill the requirements for your new major. Additionally, some majors may have limited availability or strict admission requirements, making it more difficult to switch to them.
Do you have to choose a major before you go to college?
No, you don’t have to choose a major before you go to college. In fact, many students enter college as “undecided” or “undeclared,” meaning they haven’t yet chosen a specific major. This is a common approach for students who are unsure about what they want to study.
Some colleges and universities even require students to spend their first year or two taking general education courses before declaring a major. This can be a good way to get a broad education and explore different areas of interest before making a commitment to a specific major. However, it’s important to check with the individual school to see what their policies are regarding declaring a major.
What are the top majors at colleges in the U.S.?
The most popular majors in U.S. colleges vary year to year, but some consistently appear on the top of the list. According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the top 5 most popular majors in U.S. colleges are:
- Social sciences and history
- Biological and biomedical sciences
What are the highest-paying majors?
- Chemical engineering
- Computer engineering
- Computer science
- Aerospace engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Industrial engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Miscellaneous engineering
- Business analytics
- Civil engineering
Keep in mind that other factors such as location, industry, and experience can also impact salary. Additionally, it’s important to choose a major that aligns with your interests and passions, as job satisfaction is also an important factor to consider.
What are the lowest-paying majors?
Using the same data source from above, the lowest-paying college majors are in fields like theology, social services, education, performing arts, and leisure and hospitality. For example, the median wage for an early career social worker is $37,000, while theology and religion are $36,000. Mid-career, both of these majors average less than $52,000.
Still Having Trouble Choosing a Major? Get Clear on Your Core Values
If you’re still struggling to choose a major, it may be helpful to get clear on your core values. This will prevent you from having an identity crisis. Think about what’s most important to you in life, such as helping others, making a difference in the world, or achieving financial security. Once you have a solid understanding of your values, you can start exploring majors that align with the path you’ve chosen in life.
Here are a few tips for discovering your core values:
- Self-reflection: Take some time to reflect on your life experiences and identify the things that are most important to you.
- Explore your passions: Think about the activities that make you feel most alive and engaged. These passions can give you clues about what you value most in life.
- Take a values assessment: There are many online tools and assessments that can help you identify your core values. These assessments can provide a starting point for your self-reflection and exploration. If you’re ready to get started, try this free test.
- Seek feedback: Ask people who know you well what they think your core values are. This can be a valuable way to gain insight into how others perceive you and what they see as your strengths. Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment is a great resource, as well.
- Read about values: There are many books and resources available on the topic of values. Reading about other people’s experiences and insights can help you gain a deeper understanding of what values mean to you and how you can integrate them into your life and career. Start with Dr. John DeMartini’s The Values Factor.
Remember that selecting a major is a personal decision that should be based on your unique interests, skills, and goals. Take the time to reflect on what matters most to you and don’t be afraid to seek guidance from counselors, professors, or other trusted advisors. With the right mindset and support, you can find a major that fits your values and sets you up for success in your future career.
Want more information on creating a vision for your life or still need help choosing? Read “How to Create a Vision for Your Life: A Must for Leaders” and discover the four decision-making styles.
Leaders Media has established sourcing guidelines and relies on relevant, and credible sources for the data, facts, and expert insights and analysis we reference. You can learn more about our mission, ethics, and how we cite sources in our editorial policy.
- Ellucian. (2019). Course correction: Helping students find and follow a path to success. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://www.ellucian.com/assets/en/2019-student-success-survey-results.pdf
- Stanford University. (n.d.). Why Should I Take Classes Outside of My Expected Major? Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://advising.stanford.edu/current-students/advising-student-handbook/classes-outside-major
- Prospects. (2021). Early Careers Survey 2021: Work Experience During a Crisis. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://graduatemarkettrends.cdn.prismic.io/graduatemarkettrends/bf3409a0-b8d2-406e-b56b-a4720cf327a7_early-careers-survey-2021-work-experience-during-a-crisis.pdf
- Forleo, M. (2019, September 13). How to increase your odds of success by 42 percent. CNBC. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/13/self-made-millionaire-how-to-increase-your-odds-of-success-by-42-percent-marie-forleo.html
- Musto, P. (2016, September 24). ‘Major’ Change Might Help College Students Graduate. VOA News. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/changing-majors-meta-majors-graduation-rate/3522819.html
- National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Most popular majors. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (n.d.). The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://www.newyorkfed.org/research/college-labor-market/index#/overview
- Winters, M. (2023, February 20). The 10 highest-paying college majors, five years after graduation. CNBC. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://www.cnbc.com/2023/02/20/highest-paying-college-majors.html
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (n.d.). College Labor Market. Retrieved April 5, 2023, from https://www.newyorkfed.org/research/college-labor-market/index.html#/outcomes-by-major