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How To Choose a Major

By Emily Wong

Emily Wong is a writer at Scholarships360. She’s worked as a social media manager and a content writer at several different startups, where she covered various topics including business, tech, job recruitment, and education. Emily grew up and went to school in the Chicago suburbs, where she studied economics and journalism at Northwestern University.

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Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: February 20th, 2024
How To Choose a Major

Choosing a major is one of the most pivotal decisions of your college experience. However, when you’re just graduating high school, it’s hard to pinpoint your direction for the next four years. After reading this article, we can’t promise that you’ll pick your perfect major, but we can provide you with some information and tips to make a more informed decision. Let’s get started! 

See also: Scholarships360 Guide to College Majors

What is a major?

Also known as a concentration, your college major determines your primary focus throughout your time at school. Each major will typically have its own list of requirements that students must fulfill in order to graduate. However, since most schools also impose general education requirements for all students, you’ll often get a chance to explore many topics outside of your chosen major.

Post-college, your major can indicate to employers what your classes specialized in. However, it’s not necessarily a determining factor in your future career. According to a study by Next Gen Personal Finance, only 46% of college graduates work in a job closely related to their major. While ideally your chosen major will align with your intended career trajectory, it won’t lock you into a specific path either way.

Don’t miss: College majors for the future

When do you have to declare a major?

Although many college applications include a section for your intended major, most schools allow you time to decide. At many institutions, students have until sophomore spring, or even junior year, to declare a major.

Still, there can be a lot of advantages to choosing a major early on. For example, if you’ve decided what direction to pursue, your advisor will be able to direct you toward what courses to take each semester which could aid you in making sure you graduate on time. Additionally, some schools allow students to register early for classes in their chosen major, increasing their chances of getting a spot.

How to choose a major

When deciding on your college major, you’ll want to consult all of the resources available to you. Talk to your parents, friends, and counselors to brainstorm which area of study seems like the best fit. If you’ve already committed to a college, you can find a list of majors on the school’s website to see what your options are. You’ll also want to think about what major aligns with your goals based on interests, career opportunities, and earning potential.

Interests

While many students learn to enjoy their chosen area of study, others are left wishing they would have better understood all the options that were available to them. Even if you don’t end up loving your chosen area of study, you should feel confident that it will connect you to other opportunities, provide you with a professional network, and provide you a liveable wage. Sometimes, the trickiest part is finding your passion in the first place.

When picking a major based on interests, keep in mind that you don’t have to make a decision right away. It’s hard to know if you’ll enjoy a major just by reading about it on paper. Take the time to try out a few classes, talk to professors and ask current majors about their experiences. If you’re still undecided, you can even seek out an internship or volunteer work in a potential field over the summer.

Also see: How do interdisciplinary studies majors work?

Career opportunities

Before deciding on a major, you’ll want to think about what it would mean for your career after graduation. Many fields look for candidates from a variety of disciplines. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a consultant, employers may prefer STEM majors ranging from psychology to mathematics. By contrast, mechanical engineers will typically need a degree in their field in order to get a job right out of college.

It’s also important to consider whether or not you want to attend graduate school. Certain majors, such as psychology, history and statistics often require a master’s degree or higher in order to do in-depth work in the field. On the other hand, some majors allow you to enter the workforce with only a bachelor’s degree. For example, students studying engineering, computer science and journalism can often find an entry-level position after graduation.

Earning potential

While it’s important to choose a major that interests you, you’ll also want to consider your return on investment. It may be tempting to flock to the highest-paying field of study. However, it’s important to consider other factors before making a decision. For example, if you’ve always hated math and science, a physics degree may not be the right choice for you.

Additionally, starting salary doesn’t always tell the whole story. Some jobs may pay more because they demand more hours and less flexibility than others or come with other concerns like safety risks. On top of that, it’s important to consider the benefit of choosing a career that you’re passionate about. In addition to making work more enjoyable, you may also be promoted more quickly and therefore earn more than in a stale job with a higher starting salary.

Learn more: What is the average starting salary out of college?

Don’t forget minors

When it comes to making a decision about your college major, it may seem like you won’t study anything aside from your chosen major. Luckily, in addition to the classes you can take outside your major, you can also choose to minor in another topic. This allows you to study your chosen minor in-depth and graduate with a degree that proves your knowledge in the subject.

Minors typically do not have to complete capstone projects like majors do. A minor does not open the same doors career-wise that a major would, but it can help you stand out from the pack in your job applications in the future. It’s also a great way to pursue your secondary interest without committing fully to it. Many students choose to major in a profitable field and minor in the field they are most passionate about.

Also see: Is it difficult to triple major?

Double majoring

Part of the reason that choosing a major can be so difficult for students is that they often hold a lot of different interests. It can be hard to choose one at the expense of all the others. Luckily, there is a workaround for that – most colleges allow students to double major. This means that you will devote equal attention to two separate topics throughout your college years.

Double majoring comes with a range of advantages and disadvantages. As a double major, you’ll be able to delve deeply into both fields you’re interested in and you’ll graduate with more career opportunities. However, you’ll have much less freedom to take other classes in your schedule, and you might be unable to study abroad. If both majors require a senior thesis or exam, you’ll end up with a very busy senior year.

So, although double majoring has some great advantages, you’ll want to be sure you can handle it before you take it on. Students who start on a double major and find they cannot continue it can also usually choose one of their majors to turn into a minor.

Don’t miss: Should you double major or minor?

Take time and reach out!

Deciding on a major may feel like a difficult and stressful process, but it doesn’t have to. Take your time to figure out which major aligns best with your plan for the future. Talk to your school counselor for guidance, and remember that your major isn’t the end all, be all. Good luck finding the right major for you!

See also: Scholarships by major

Frequently asked questions about choosing a major

Should I choose a major based on job prospects?

Job prospects are important but remember that job markets can change! So, instead of focusing on trends, choose a major that aligns with your skills and interests.

Should I listen to my friends and family about which major I should choose

It’s important to consider others’ advice, but ultimately it is your decision! Try not to be pressured by outside sources but do seek guidance if you are struggling to decide on a major. Remember, there is no shame in being an undecided major!

Can my major limit my career options?

Yes and no. Some careers may require specific majors because many fields value a variety of skills and experiences. However, a major might not always determine your career path, but it may play a significant role.

How many majors can I have?

Typically, students have one major. However, students can double major or pursue additional minors. If you are interested in this, be sure to discuss your options with your academic advisor and plan out your schedule accordingly.

Do all colleges offer the same majors?

No, different colleges and universities may offer varying majors. Some institutions might specialize in certain fields or offer unique programs, so it’s essential to research different schools and majors to find the right fit for you.

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