What Is a Major in College and How Do You Decide?

Ginger Abbot

Feb 26, 2023

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Declaring a major in college is somewhat challenging and daunting for students—yet obtaining a degree is critical if you hope to seek gainful employment upon graduation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s degree holders had median weekly earnings of $1,334 in 2021—$525 more than those with only a high school diploma. 

Even if you knew your dream job at three years old, choosing your major marks the start of your journey toward adulthood and a lifelong professional career. 

Whether you’re beginning the application process, finishing your first semester, or making a final decision, these tips will help you pick the right major. 

What Is a College Major?

Before you declare, it’s essential to know what a college major is. Students select a major to specialize in a specific subject. Most undergraduate programs are 120 credits, of which approximately one-third or half of the curriculum delivers courses related to your chosen field of study. 

Some schools allow students to design their own major in what’s referred to as an interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, or individualized study. 

As students work their way through their curriculums, they might also pursue a minor to delve into an associated subfield. 

Generally, students enrolled at a four-year college or university declare their major at the end of their second year. However, some programs — medical, engineering, etc. — ask students to commit to the program early and complete a series of prerequisites to graduate on time.

5 Helpful Tips for Choosing a Major

If you’re nervous about deciding on a major, these five tips can help you make the best choice based on your interests and natural abilities. 

1. Consider What Appeals to You

Knowing what hobbies, interests, and passions excite you is the first step to figuring out your ideal major in college. 

Are you engrossed in learning about wildlife? Have you volunteered to pick up trash at your local park? Perhaps you organized a climate change event for your community or school. If so, an environmental science major will teach you about conservation and pave the way for fieldwork, public policy roles, and work with nonprofits. 

Likewise, if you enjoyed taking computer classes or were a member of your high school’s newspaper club or yearbook committee, maybe journalism, computer science, or graphic design appeal to you more.

2. Discover Your Strengths and Weaknesses

An awareness of your strengths and weaknesses can help you narrow down your best options for a college major.

For example, students can apply mathematics skills to solve real-life problems related to the economy and data research. Naturally, degrees in math, economics, finance, or accounting are optimal. You might also integrate your math skills into engineering, technology, or science programs.

On the other hand, if you fear public speaking, you may want to stay away from theater or political science majors. Studies show that public speaking anxiety affects 15% to 30% of the global population. 

3. List Your Career Goals

Your major program aims to prepare you for employment in your chosen field. Making a list of your career goals can help you choose your major or program of study before you even apply for college.

Research potential careers that interest you and look up the future job growth for those roles. How easy or difficult will it be to find employment? Can you earn a livable salary with the degree you’re pursuing? 

The BLS reports that the fastest-growing jobs are in the renewable energy, healthcare, and information security sectors for the coming decade. For example, wind turbine technicians have a projected job growth of 68%, while nurse practitioners have a growth rate of 52.2%. 

Some employers may accept an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as sufficient education. At the same time, other careers may require you to further your education in a graduate or doctoral program, such as law, medicine, engineering, and library science.

4. Enroll In Various Classes

Throughout the first two years of undergraduate study, it’s recommended to enroll in various classes to figure out what you like. 

In addition to your general education requirements, you’ll have the ability to take several elective courses of your choosing. This is a prime opportunity for trying out different topics you wouldn’t have otherwise. 

For example, if you have a knack for biology but have always wanted to attempt creative writing, you may find that declaring an English major is your true calling. The same goes for intended business majors who uncover a newfound love for psychology after an introductory class. 

5. Utilize Academic Resources

Colleges offer many resources to guide you towards declaring a major. Speak with your academic advisor to learn about your school’s different programs of study, how your talents and interests may align with a particular program, and the elective courses they recommend you try. 

Your school will also likely have a career center where you can seek assistance and learn about different industries and positions after graduation. Often, the career center can provide skills-based assessments and personality questionnaires that result in a list of potential careers that appeal to you.

Internships and volunteer opportunities are additional ways to spark interest in a particular subject, leading you to an exciting subject area.

Choosing a Major Is a Big Decision

With so many options available, choosing the right college major is an important decision that can set you up for a lifetime of success. You know yourself better than anyone else, including your strengths and passions. Whatever major you pick, make sure that you’re happy and have a clear set of goals to attain after graduation. 

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