How to Choose a Major

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to find your fit?

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.

When Do I Choose a Major?

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.

Career Paths

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.

  • Art and Design

    The field of art and design ranks among the most popular majors. Art and design isn’t limited to the performing and visual arts. Students can also study architecture, art history, fashion, and animation. Many art and design programs also offer majors in specialized areas like graphic design and game design.

    During an art and design degree, most majors take introductory art classes in several areas, including the studio arts, art history, and digital arts.

    Art and design appeals to creative students with strong attention to detail. Strong interpersonal skills also help art and design majors succeed.

  • Business and Management

    Business and management majors teach students to analyze financial projections, create business plans, design efficient business procedures, and manage teams. Most colleges offer a business administration degree. Within the field, students can specialize in areas like finance, accounting, marketing, management, and human resources.

    A business and management major emphasizes problem-solving and analytical skills. Majors strengthen their communication and interpersonal abilities through group projects and assignments. Many programs also encourage students to pursue an internship to gain hands-on training.

    After earning a business degree, graduates can work as marketing specialists, human resources specialists, business consultants, and managers. A business degree also prepares graduates for MBA programs.

  • Computers and Technology

    The field of computers and technology trains students to design software applications, write computer code, and analyze data. Majors take classes in areas such as operating systems, information security, and data science. Graduates can work in diverse fields, including information technology, business, government, and criminal justice.

    Computer and technology majors build strong analytical and reasoning skills. They rely on logic to identify errors in computer code, conduct security testing, and develop new computing systems. The field also requires a detail-oriented outlook and math skills.

    While many colleges offer computer science and information technology majors, students interested in specialized degrees, like management information systems, data science, or cybersecurity, should research which schools offer these particular programs.

  • Criminal Justice and Legal

    The criminal justice and legal area of study investigates criminal behavior and the legal system. While many colleges offer a broad criminal justice major, students may also be able to major in areas like criminology, homeland security, or crime scene investigation. Many colleges also offer a legal studies, pre-law, or paralegal track.

    Graduates with a criminal justice degree can pursue jobs in law enforcement, the court system, and the correctional system. Some criminal justice majors choose to go to law school.

  • Education and Teaching

    Education and teaching majors take classes in areas like instruction methods, curriculum design, assessment strategies, and classroom management. They also complete a student-teaching internship to gain classroom experience.

    Within the field of education and teaching, students may focus on early childhood education, elementary education, or secondary education. Many schools also offer a major in special education, which trains educators to teach students with different abilities.

    Education and teaching majors benefit from patience, creativity, and strong communication skills. Before declaring an education major, prospective teachers should check whether their program meets the requirements for a teaching license in their state.

  • Liberal Arts and Humanities

    The liberal arts and humanities include many popular majors like political science, English, sociology, and history. Majors in these fields may analyze human institutions, study the natural sciences, and investigate the social world.

    A liberal arts and humanities major emphasizes critical thinking, research, and analytical reasoning skills. Students analyze texts and data to draw conclusions supported by their sources. The area of study also builds strong writing and communication skills.

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.

Online College Resources

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Online Law School Students

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Online Law School Students

November 6, 2020   |   Staff Writers

Earning a law degree opens professional doors. However, law school graduates owe an average of over . Scholarships and other forms of financial aid can help law school students obtain...

College Preparation Checklist

College Preparation Checklist

October 19, 2020   |   Staff Writers

Preparing for college before the first day sets up new students for success. Beginning college can be overwhelming, even for learners who have taken college-level classes in the past. Knowing...