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What is a College Major?

Your college major will be your primary academic field of focus during your time in college. Typically, between one third and one half of your classes will be within your major. You might also complete a senior capstone project in your major field. Some students decide to complement their major with a minor, and others choose to double major

In this article, we’ll answer any questions you might have about college majors. We might even answer some that you didn’t know you had! Let’s get into it:

Why is my college major important?

College experience

A college major is important for several reasons. One is that it will steer the subject matter that you study throughout your entire time in college. College is a great opportunity to expand your worldview and your major will determine what you spend that time studying.

Opportunities after graduation

Another reason why a college major is important is how it impacts your opportunities after graduation. Employers and grad schools will both look at your college major as a factor in your qualifications. Although many people often go on to work jobs that have little to do with their major, the general field you study still carries significance. For example, an anthropology major is not likely to land a job at a physics lab after graduation. 

However, you should keep in mind that college majors are not the be-all end-all determinant of your life after school. Though an anthropology major would have a hard time working at a physics lab, they are not constrained to anthropology-oriented careers either. An anthropology major might end up with a career in marketing, copywriting, NGO work, law, or even economics. The more work experience you accumulate, the less your college major matters.

There are fields where this is less true, however. While the humanities tend to be flexible, hard science-oriented majors are more rigid and their education is more specialized. For example, you won’t be able to get into med school without taking pre-med classes.

When do I choose my college major?

The answer to this question varies by school and by major. At many liberal arts schools, most students end up choosing their major by the end of their sophomore year. Their class schedule is more flexible and they spend their freshman year exploring different subject matters and choosing which one they’d like to pursue. However, at larger universities with specialized schools, the case is often different.

For example, at some universities, a student must apply to a specific college within the university to gain admittance. This college will only offer a specialized set of majors. As a result, students will have chosen their major, or limited their options dramatically, before even gaining admission. Additionally, majors with more intensive requirements, such as pre-med or neurobiology, might require that students commit earlier in order to fulfill all their requirements.

How should I choose my major?

Choosing your major is an important process that you should spend a lot of time considering. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when you make the decision:

  • What fields am I interested in?
  • How would these fields affect my career prospects after graduation?
  • Which classes have I found myself most interested in so far?
  • Which departments at my college are my favorites?

These are all important questions to consider. If you are taking out substantial loans to go to college, you may want to consider a higher-earning major such as computer science or finance. If you are in college to explore subjects you’re curious about, you might be more inclined towards humanities or fine arts. And sometimes, just having a great connection with a few professors in your department is enough to make the decision for a student.

Also see: Top majors and careers for introverts

Can I switch majors?

In most situations, students are free to switch their major. If they switch their major early in their college career, this is typically not an issue whatsoever. However, if a student is late in making the change, they might have a hard time fulfilling the requirements of their new major in their remaining semesters.

When you consider switching majors, it’s a good idea to meet with an academic advisor and go over the credits you’ve accumulated and what you still need to earn to graduate. In order to complete the requirements for your new major, you may need to over-enroll. It could even be that you’d need to take an extra semester. Make sure to figure this out before you make the switch. If you need to take an extra semester, you need to figure out if you can afford it before making the decision. Remember, many sources of financial aid run out after four years of college.

Also see: Should I switch majors? What to consider when deciding

When is it too late to decide on a major?

Most students decide their major by the end of sophomore year. For students with more specialized majors, this time is usually earlier. Technically, it is never too late to decide on a major. That being said, if you decide on your major too late in your college career, you may be unable to complete your requirements by the end of your fourth year.

This means that you’d have to enroll for additional semesters in order to earn your degree. In order to prevent this from happening, make sure to stay in touch with the registrar’s office to ensure that you are on track to earn your degree by the end of your senior year. 

If you are still unsure what major you want to choose, but the time is approaching, you can consider double majoring or minoring in one of your fields of interest. This way, you will be able to pursue all of your interests and your degree will reflect this pursuit. As an added bonus, you’ll stay on track with your credits and not run into any problems graduating on time.

Also see: Should you double major or minor? Everything you need to know

Do employers care what I majored in?

Yes and no. When applying for highly specialized jobs, your major will be extremely important. Jobs in STEM, in economics and finance, and in healthcare are typically the ones that lend your major the most weight. However, there are many jobs that are not especially concerned with your major.

As you gain more experience in the workforce, your major will become less and less relevant to your employers. Your work experience will become your most valued asset. That being said, your major does have influence on the initial work opportunities you secure, so indirectly, it will continue to affect you throughout your career.

So, although a major is not insignificant to your career potentials, it is a factor to consider. But it is one of many. Internships and extracurriculars are oftentimes seen as more important, as they demonstrate the real-world work you’ve done.

How does my major affect my graduate school prospects?

Your major will play a large part in determining what graduate school opportunities you qualify for. However, you don’t need to go to grad school for exactly what you majored in during undergrad. Many law school students start off as English majors or even foreign language majors.

Which majors have the highest salary?

Our article on the top 15 college majors for the future has information on highest salary and industry growth for the best-ranking majors. These include computer science, business administration, and physical therapy. To put things into context, you can also check out our article on average starting salaries out of college. But remember, each major has a wide range of high and low paying jobs after college. Your career choice will probably have more impact on your salary than your major.

Choosing complementary double majors and minors

If you are thinking of double majoring or adding a minor, you may be interested to figure out what majors and minors go well together. The truth is, you should pursue what you are interested in! Each combination of studies has its own merits, and if you pick a combination that you find meaningful, you will be able to demonstrate its worth to any grad schools or future employers.

Some students wonder if they would be better off double majoring, or minoring, in a topic that is similar to their first major, or one that is different. When it comes down to it, either one of these can be the right choice. The combination of fields of study doesn’t matter so much as the connection you draw between them. For example, a psychology major might decide to double major in French. To some, this may seem like an arbitrary combination. But the student could use these majors to perform cross-cultural psychological studies between people in America and France.

Can I change my major when I transfer schools?

Students who transfer schools may also choose to change their major. This can be a good way to put you on the track of studying a subject that is a better fit for you in a new environment. However, you should also keep in mind that you may have a harder time graduating on time. Make sure to check how many of your credits transferred over, and whether you can afford an extra semester in college, if it were to come to that.

Related: How to transfer colleges: A step-by-step guide

Summing it up

  • Your college major is your primary field of study throughout your time in college
  • College majors help determine what opportunities you’ll have after graduation, including your employment prospects and your grad school possibilities
  • It’s a good idea to weigh your interest in each subject with the opportunities it will open for you
  • Most students choose a major by the end of their sophomore year
  • Humanities majors tend to be more flexible than STEM majors in their employment and grad school possibilities