For many students, choosing a major is the first step toward choosing a career path, so it’s normal to be unsure about it. The most popular majors include business, healthcare, the social sciences, and psychology. Engineering, biology, communications, and the arts also rank among popular majors.
But students do not need to choose a popular major. Many colleges offer focused, unique majors designed for specific career paths. Several schools offer equine studies degrees, for example, and many schools allow students to design their own interdisciplinary majors.
This page offers guidance on how to choose a major, including concrete steps to take when selecting an area of study.
Some college freshmen arrive on the first day knowing their major, while others take a year or more to decide. Both routes offer benefits and drawbacks for students.
Choosing a major early can help prospective students find a school with a strong reputation in their field. Similarly, students interested in less common majors can make sure their college offers courses in their field.
Many students arrive at college undecided about their major. Remaining undeclared can give students time to sample many fields and find one that fits their interests and career goals. Most bachelor’s programs require around 40-50 credits within the major, meaning most of the 120 credits for the degree come from outside the major. Taking general education classes for one or two years lets students explore several fields before declaring a major.
Strengths and Interests
When choosing a major, students should consider their strengths and interests. To hone in on their interests, students can start by looking at their transcripts. Which classes do they prefer, and what skills do those classes have in common?
High schoolers who enjoy reading books and writing papers in language arts and social studies may gravitate toward social science and humanities majors, which require many of the same skills. Students who love the technical problem-solving of math and science classes can consider STEM majors.
Many strengths fit with multiple majors. For example, students who enjoy writing can excel in writing and English majors in addition to majors like communication, public relations, marketing, and history. Similarly, students interested in math may pursue majors in areas such as economics, engineering, science, or accounting.
Students can also turn to their extracurriculars, hobbies, and volunteer experiences to identify their strengths. For instance, if a student enjoys photography, they may enjoy majoring in graphic design or journalism.
Some majors provide focused training for a specific career path, while others lead to a variety of careers. For example, students who major in nursing take classes in health assessment, evidence-based practice, and physiology, preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam and a registered nursing license. While nursing majors can pursue careers outside of nursing, the major offers specialized training in the field.
Many majors offer more open-ended options when it comes to career paths. Most history majors, for example, do not become historians. According to a 2017 study, the top five career paths for history majors include education, management, sales, administration, and legal occupations. Other liberal arts fields, including science, social studies, and humanities, similarly prepare graduates for many different careers.
Some careers require a certain degree to earn a license to practice. For example, public school teachers must earn licensure, which requires an education degree. Other careers don’t require a specific degree, but employers in the field may prefer it. For instance, software developers can come from many educational backgrounds, but a computer science degree gives candidates a competitive edge in the job market.
Several professions require a graduate degree. Lawyers, doctors, psychologists, economists, nurse practitioners, and school principals all need graduate degrees. In these fields, an undergraduate major can provide valuable preparation for graduate study. Pre-med students often choose a science major, while pre-law students benefit from social science and humanities courses.
Undecided students can research the job growth and earning potential in different careers to make an informed decision about their major and career path. The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides job growth projections, entry-level educational requirements, and median salaries for hundreds of careers. For each occupation, the BLS also lists recommended majors and how to enter the profession.
Choosing a School
Students with a strong sense of their major can research programs in their field and learn more about major requirements at different schools. Looking at the course options and faculty in the major can help students narrow their options.
Undecided students may prefer to choose a school that offers a wide variety of majors. Some universities, for example, offer majors in over 100 subjects. Attending a community college or enrolling in online courses to meet general education requirements can help undecided students learn more about different majors while saving money. Students who take this route should make sure the credits they earn will transfer to their bachelor’s institution.
When choosing a school, prospective students should always check the institution’s accreditation status. Regionally accredited schools meet high standards for academic excellence. Accreditation benefits students in important ways. For example, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions.
Programs within a school may also hold accreditation, such as business, engineering, education, and nursing programs. Prospective students can verify a school or program’s accreditation status through the Department of Education’s database.
Areas of Study
Colleges offer majors in dozens of areas, like business, engineering, education, and design. Students can also pursue majors in anthropology, zoology, sociology, and psychology. This section introduces common areas of study. However, some majors do not fit perfectly into a single category, and some schools organize their majors differently. When choosing a major, students should always check the options at their prospective school.
What To Do If You Have Multiple Majors of Interest
Some students don’t know how to choose a major when they’re interested in several areas. If you can’t decide between several options, then take introductory classes in different fields. These classes typically meet general education or elective requirements, so undecided students might not need to waste time exploring their options.
When two fields seem similar at first glance, talking to professors or academic advisors can help undergrads narrow their choices. Undecided students can also research the graduation requirements and career options with different majors.
Students can also consider a double major or a minor. In most bachelor’s programs, students complete 120 credits, including 40-50 credits in their major, 40-50 credits of general education requirements, and 20-40 credits of electives. By planning strategically, students can earn a double major or minor, which can give them more career options after graduation.
What If I Don’t Know What To Do With My Life
It’s normal to worry that you don’t know what to do with your life — many college students feel that way at some point. Fortunately, there are more majors and career options than most college students realize. Many colleges offer dozens of options for undergraduates in diverse fields like astronomy, technical writing, business analytics, and nuclear engineering.
If you feel lost, start with the basics. The most important factors to consider when choosing a major include your interests, strengths, and career goals. Some students thrive in technical majors, while others prefer more artistic majors. Figure out your favorite classes and look for overlapping themes. Do you prefer working with written materials or numerical data? Would you rather work with your hands or your mind? Do you like working with others or independently?
Then, students should consider their career goals and what majors build the skills necessary for those fields. Answering these questions can help undecided students narrow in on a major.
Undeclared students can also buy time to choose a major. After enrolling, students can take a variety of general education classes to sample multiple fields. Learners can also enroll in a less expensive two-year college or an online college to save money while they figure out their goals.
Once you declare a major, you can also change your mind. Around 30% of college students change their major at least once, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.