Whether you’ve yet to start college, you’re in your freshman year, or you’re running out of time to pick your major, one thing is certain.
Choosing a major is a big decision. It’s not something to take lightly. And it leaves thousands of students feeling lost, stricken by the inability to decide.
But we’ve got your back, and we’re here to help you decide.
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Your College Major and You
If you haven’t started at college – or haven’t even picked a college, yet – don’t worry. You’ve got plenty of time.
We’ll get into the fine details of how to choose a major in a moment. Before we do, let’s go over what your major means for you, and what a major even is.
Majors vs. Minors
Minors and majors. What’s the difference, and is a minor important?
The short answer is “yes”. Your minor isn’t an afterthought. It’s a crucial aspect of your bachelor’s degree.
A bachelor’s degree requires around 120 credits – and your minor eats up 30 of those. Your minor is equivalent to a quarter of your total study in both effort and time.
So what is a minor for?
Well, for some, it’s a way to broaden the scope of a major. A minor is a great way to niche down in a relevant, non-critical field of study. You might choose to major in criminal justice, and pick a minor in social justice, for instance.
For others, a minor offers the means to explore a passion. For example, perhaps you’re majoring in economics, but choose environmental science as a minor because you’re worried about the implications of climate change.
It all comes down to you and your priorities. In any case, while your minor is important, it’s perfectly fine if it doesn’t relate to your major.
How Important Is Your Major?
Your major is a different story. It’s the beating heart of your entire academic career.
Your choice of major will mean big things for your future, your career, and your life.
- Your major influences further study options
- Your major requires you to be at your best
- Your major is a vital stepping stone of your career
- Your major determines the overall trajectory of your bachelor’s degree
In short, your major is more than important – it’s what everything has been building up to.
When Do I Declare My Major?
If you’re just starting out, don’t fret. You have a lot of time to pick a major that suits you.
When – and how – this happens varies greatly from college to college. As a rule of thumb, though, you’ll have to declare your major in your sophomore (second) or junior (third) year.
Do your reading. Pay attention to the requirements of your college.
Some colleges ask that you declare a major on your initial application. Don’t let that put you off, though – in these cases, it’s usually acceptable to leave it “undeclared”.
If you’re unclear about when you need to declare, your college website or academic syllabus will have more information.
Can I Change My Mind?
One of the great things about declaring a major is that you can change your mind later on, assuming you’ve not overshot the deadline and you’re doing it last-minute.
But there are key aspects to bear in mind about changing your major.
- Majors require coursework
- Most majors require introductory and advanced courses
- Not all courses are offered year-round
Coursework. It’s a core element of your studies. Coursework makes up a large segment of the credits you’ll be earning. And those credits go on to make up your major.
If you have already earned a handful of credits toward one major, and switch, then depending on circumstance, those may not count toward your new choice.
This means more courses, more coursework, and more time spent studying.
So, planning in advance is crucial. Some courses required by certain majors have introductory classes you’re expected to complete first.
And if an intro class is only offered in the spring, and the advanced course in the following winter semester, it’s possible for a whole year to be added to your studies if you switch.
You can change your mind, sure, but be wary of the implications of doing so.
Figuring Out Your Major
Let’s break down how you’re going to go about choosing your college major.
But no matter how many blogs, articles, and magazines you read, remember this:
Your major is your decision, and yours alone.
Nobody can decide for you. No, not even your parents or sponsors. It’s your decision, and it’s your responsibility. Don’t let uninformed opinions sour your passions, but remember to keep an open mind.
Not everything is as clear-cut as you think.
Consider Your Passions
Your major needs to speak to you.
Everybody ticks differently. And, here’s a secret: We all procrastinate. Some are just better at hiding it than others.
Effective study at college means learning to fight against your monkey brain. It means sitting down and doing hard work. And sometimes, it means canceling plans with friends or skipping over a Netflix binge.
That’s why it’s vital that your major is something you’re passionate about.
Your passion will drive you to get up at the crack of dawn for that course you hate. Your passion is what drives late nights and all-nighters when you’re cramming for your exams.
Your passion is what helps you stay focused when your peers are panicking because they’re procrastinating too much.
Pick a major that aligns with your passions, and you’re setting yourself up for success.
But that’s not all.
Choose a Major That Aligns With Your Values
Do you have a set of core beliefs that speak to you? Are you a principled person?
If you pick a college major that aligns with your values, you’ll be more invested in the outcome. On the flip side, choose against a major that makes you feel uncomfortable.
This can mean many different things to different people. Some are interested in justice and the rule of law. Others want to help people. You may want to preserve the environment, or you might believe strongly in personal challenges.
What’s more, you’ll have the opportunity to interrogate your values on a deeper level. Even so, remember that college is a time for self-expression and experimentation.
You’re finding out who you are.
Your values and beliefs will change over time, and nothing is set in stone. So, while important, your values aren’t the be-all and end-all of your major.
Go With Something That Fits Your Abilities
If you’re good at something, you’ll have an easier time making a major of it.
And it’s not all about your grades.
Natural talent goes a long way in boosting your confidence when deciding what to study. Your confidence in your own abilities makes it easier to remain focused when the going gets tough.
And it will get tough at some point.
But, as with your values, don’t discount subjects you haven’t tried, yet – or ones you felt you were pretty bad at in high school. The truth is that anyone can become pretty great at anything with a lot of elbow grease and hard work.
Choosing a Major for Your Career
Now that you’ve interrogated yourself and your own desires, it’s time to think about the future.
A bachelor’s degree has an end goal in mind, and it’s usually to jumpstart your career. Once again, remember that it’s okay to change your mind.
But, you should come to your decision with your career in mind.
Will It Pay?
Some people want to make a lot of money.
But even if you’re not a materialistic person, you need to be pragmatic. At the end of the day, we all have bills to pay, and your career is what will support you.
If you’re motivated by potential salary, then a major in a STEM-related field may be right for you.
The liberal arts, humanities, and education sectors don’t boast earning potentials as high, but it’s enough to make a good living. Remember, too, that your earning potential will only be as high as the time you spend in your field.
Don’t pick a major for the earning potential alone if your heart isn’t in it. You’ll only end up switching careers later on (but that’s still okay).
Will You Maintain Your Study-Work-Life Balance?
Life is all about balance.
A career isn’t everything, and neither are the studies that precede it.
Pay special attention to the needs and requirements of your major, and ask yourself the following questions:
- How much free time will I have?
- How much free time do I need?
- How much free time will my peers have to socialize?
- How long will I need to prepare for exams?
- How much reading will I need to do?
- How stressful is this major?
- What is the dropout rate?
What’s more, consider the implications of a career after college. Will you be able to maintain a healthy balance when you’re working full-time?
Different sectors ask different amounts of their new hires.
The legal and finance sectors, for instance, may require you to sacrifice your social life in the early years.
Will It Challenge You Enough?
Some like a challenge. Others would prefer to breeze through college.
But there’s no need to be averse to challenges.
Studying a college is about growth. Personal development. It takes a huge amount of pressure to make a diamond – and you’re no different.
Think about your potential majors, and ask yourself whether you’ll be challenged, forced to think differently, and thrust into new and unfamiliar situations.
These are all things that build character. These are all things that build strength. And overcoming a great challenge is fantastic for your confidence.
Are You Good Enough?
You shouldn’t shy away from adversity, but at the same time, you need to be realistic.
Go over the syllabus with a fine-tooth comb. Google how hard it is to complete the majors you’re considering. Ask around – juniors and seniors will be happy to share their first-hand experiences with you.
And in the end, look inward and ask yourself if you’re good enough to complete your major. It doesn’t need to be a resounding “yes” – it’s okay to be apprehensive – but only you know deep down whether you can do it.
Is It Employable?
Many career sectors are highly competitive, particularly at the entry-level.
Every career path varies greatly, but you’ll have an easier time of it by choosing a broader subject over a narrow one.
If your major is too specific, in a too competitive niche, you will need to beat out a lot more competition than with a major that is broadly applicable.
Helping You Decide
There are many people you can turn to while you’re deciding how to choose a college major.
Speak to as many of them as you can – every voice presents a new twist. Some will be supportive, others critical, and some may speak harsh words.
But it’s all useful, and you may well uncover hidden passions or interests by asking around.
Talk With Family
Your family is there to support you. This doesn’t have to mean picking the major your parents already picked out for you, though. You are your own person.
Bear in mind that many of your family members have more experience than you, and many probably work in diverse fields. Ask around for their personal experience with their jobs.
Ask them what they love, what they hate, and what they would change if they could. Ask for their input on the majors you’re considering.
Talk With Friends
Your friends will speak more candidly than your family. And they probably know the real “you” better than your parents, grandparents, and distant relations.
While they’re probably in the same boat, puzzling over what major to pick, this is also a great opportunity. Your friends and peers will be doing their own thinking.
They’re asking themselves the same questions as you – and some of them will know more about the opportunities available to you. Some may have spoken with senior students or faculty staff, already.
Consider sitting down with a peer group and discussing your chosen or prospective majors. Even if you don’t gain any insight, you may help out one of your friends who’s having trouble deciding.
Talk With Advisors
Your college has career advisors for a reason.
They’ve hashed and rehashed the same conversation a thousand times, already, and they’re some of the most insightful people you could talk to about your major.
They will point out common difficulties faced by other students and highlight things you haven’t even considered.
They might even propose a major that’s different from the one you had in mind.
And remember: Career advisors have a busy schedule. Before your appointment, draft a list of thoughtful questions and key topics to cover.
Don’t just walk in and ask what major you should pick.
They’ll be glad of the effort, and they’ll be able to provide detailed insight the more thought you put into your questions. When speaking to an advisor, consider covering some of these core points:
- How hard is my major compared with others?
- How high is the dropout rate for my major?
- How many study hours are expected of me per credit?
- What is the pass rate for finals?
- How much coursework is required?
- What minors should I consider alongside my major?
- Are there any expected extra-curricular activities?
Talk With Career Professionals
Whether through friends, family, your college, or some creative networking, talking with professionals working in the career you’re interested in goes a long way.
You might not know anybody (yet), but if you know where to look, you’ll be surprised at the results you can get.
LinkedIn is a social media platform for professionals. It’s intimidating to get started, but you can build a profile even if you’re still in college and network from there.
Online forums dedicated to professional fields are another place to go. StackOverflow and GitHub are great for IT-related professions – but even Reddit has a subforum dedicated to almost anything.
Using social platforms such as these to ask open, honest, and searching questions will often get you answers you weren’t expecting, and insights straight from the source.
What if I’m Still Undecided?
If you’re still unclear on how to decide on a college major, don’t feel bad. Many of your fellow students feel the same way.
Give Yourself Time
Choosing a college major can leave you feeling paralyzed by indecision. But first and foremost, you need to take enough time to reach it.
Many colleges don’t require their students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. That’s four semesters to get acquainted with course materials and do a little self-searching.
And if you feel the decision deadline looming and you’re still undecided, consider taking some time off.
A change of scenery will give your perspective and time for reflection.
Ask your college staff about taking a semester – or a gap year – to get some perspective. If you can, consider embarking on one of the following:
- An internship in a field you’re interested in
- Part-time or full-time work in a different city
- Traveling the country
- Traveling the world
- Volunteering abroad
Any new experience will broaden your horizons. You’ll discover more about yourself, your beliefs, and your resilience. And when the time comes to settle on a major, you’ll have that much more life experience under your belt.
Leave Your Major Undeclared
We’ve already mentioned you don’t have to declare your major upfront, but this bears repeating.
Even if your peers are declaring theirs, don’t declare a major until you have to.
Of course, you’ll need to consider waiting lists. Some advanced courses are naturally going to be competitive and securing a spot might require you to sign up well in advance.
But the truth is, many students who declare a major in their freshman year will end up changing it, anyway.
Make the decision when you’re ready, and not a second before.
Your Major Isn’t Everything
In spite of everything we’ve covered, your college degree is about much, much more than acing a major.
It’s a journey of self-discovery. It’s a crucial slice of life experience out of the rigid routine of high school. It’s a place to experiment, to learn, and to form bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime.
With everything said and done, it’s important above all to finish your degree and come out the other end a better person.
And remember – generalist majors are absolutely fine.
They’re a perfect stepping stone for all sorts of futures and careers. Many employers look well beyond your academic history when they’re weighing up the pros and cons of hiring you.
Ultimately, even though it’s not a decision to take lightly, your major isn’t everything.
Find the Right Major for You
Choosing a major is a big step in your studies, your career, and your life. It’s never an easy choice. With a wealth of options to choose from and a host of unanswered questions, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
You need to look inward and ask yourself the big questions. And you need to turn to your peers, advisors, and family. But in the end, you have time.
And you can always switch lanes if you find your major isn’t for you.