How to Pick a College Major

How to Pick a College Major

9 minute read

Choosing which college to attend is a big decision that involves your grades, test scores, applications, essays, and careful consideration of your circumstances and goals. However, it’s not the only big decision you’ll have to make. You’ll also have to choose a major for your college path — and future career.

When it comes time to pick one, how do you know which major to choose? What criteria can you use to narrow down your choices? What do you do if you genuinely have no idea what your major should be?

In this piece, we’ll carefully examine strategies for figuring out your options and picking a major, as well as what it means if you decide to have a minor or a double major.

What Is a College Major?

A college major is a specific field of study that you choose to focus on during your undergraduate education. When you "declare" a major, you formally select the subject or discipline you want to specialize in. This will shape your academic coursework and future career path.

When Do You Declare Your College Major?

Many colleges and universities require students to declare their major by the end of their sophomore year.

Some students know what they want to major in before they even apply to college, but it’s okay to apply to a variety of schools without a clear academic path in mind. You can use your first couple semesters of college to try out different disciplines and work through any general education requiremenst your school has.

How to Choose a College Major

Choosing a college major isn’t a lifetime commitment, which we’ll discuss in more detail below. However, it also shouldn’t be taken lightly, as this will help you map out your college path and even figure out which schools you should apply to. 

Ask yourself the following questions and answer them honestly. Doing so can help you figure out what your major might be, regardless of whether you’re still in high school or already in college.

What Are Your Interests?  

Start the process of choosing a major by listing the things you’re interested in or passionate about. You should choose a major that will likely keep you interested and engaged throughout college. It’s much easier to focus on something you already love. Studies show that engaged and interested students tend to perform better in school and are better prepared for a more satisfying career.

If you have trouble figuring out what you’re interested in, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  • When do you feel happiest?
  • What’s your favorite school subject?
  • Who’s someone you admire, and what do they do?

What Are You Good At?

If you can think of something you love that you’re also naturally good at, like working with animals or writing code, then you can usually find a major that leads to a rewarding career.

What Makes the Most Money?

Choosing a major based solely on prospective salaries after graduation isn’t always the best idea, but it’s not a bad idea, either. For those with ambition and drive who don’t have a strong interest in a specific field, sometimes choosing a major based on expected future salary can be an excellent way to narrow down your options.

How Much Time Can I Commit?

As you consider majors, keep in mind that different majors may have different time requirements in terms of classes you need to take or outside obligations you have. For example, some majors require internships or hands-on experience, and others require enormous amounts of time spent writing long papers

While it’s impossible to know the exact amount of time each major will require, you can always get a general idea by looking at your intended school’s course curriculum or taking a couple of introductory courses. 

When you’re figuring out how much time you can devote to any particular major, keep in mind any jobs, family commitments, or extracurricular activities you’ll be responsible for while in college and taking classes. A pre-med track, for example, will require a much more significant time commitment than many other majors.

Where Will You Study?

For some, you’ll choose your major after you choose which school to attend. For example, if you already know you’ll stay in-state, you’ll have to choose a major offered by one of your state schools.

However, students who already know what they’d like to major in might choose to apply to schools that offer a solid course of study in their intended major, wherever that school may be.

What Do I Want to Do After College?

Some students already know “what they want to be when they grow up.” If you’re one of them, choose a major that will logically lead to that career. For example, a future nurse should choose a healthcare-related major like biology.

If you know what you want to do but aren’t sure what to major in, you can always look at online job boards to find out what kinds of skills you’ll need to be qualified for those positions. Job listings usually have specific degrees and majors listed under requirements.

For students who don’t know what they want to do after college, try taking an online career aptitude test. Even if you don’t get an answer you like, it might help you narrow down your ideas by eliminating what you don’t want to do. These tests might also help you discover career paths you didn’t even know existed but are interested in trying.

What Does My Advisor or Counselor Have to Say?

We highly suggest you speak to your school’s guidance counselor (for high school) or academic advisor (for college) about what to major in. These are education professionals who can help you narrow down your options to figure out what the best college major for you might be. 

Even if you’re in college and you haven’t declared your major yet, you should have an assigned academic advisor who can help you navigate the path to a major. Think of this as built-in, free expert help.

Can I Try Different Classes First?

Taking a variety of courses within your first couple of semesters or before even starting college is a great way to “try on” different majors. Online platforms like StraighterLine offer affordable courses on a flexible schedule that allow you to explore many fields, from Art Appreciation to Western Civilization.

Taking classes before enrolling in college can earn you college credit that can easily be transferred to your traditional institution and possibly help you fulfill your major requirements once you choose one.

Minors and Double Majors

As you consider your college path, you may have heard about “minors” and “double majors.” These are offered at many schools for students who want to go even further with their college education. 

Every college will have its own set of requirements and recommendations regarding minors and double majors. You’ll need to research your school’s policies or speak with an academic advisor before pursuing a minor or double major.

What Is a College Minor?

A college minor is a secondary area of academic focus that typically — but not always — complements your major. Minors allow you to explore additional interests or gain expertise in a related discipline without the same level of commitment as a major. 

Or, you might choose a minor based on another interest you have without committing to the requirements of a major. Most colleges don’t require one, but if you choose a minor, you will have to declare it.

What Is a Double Major?

A double major means having two majors under the same degree. It’s not earning two degrees at once. It’s important to note that choosing to double major will require that you take more courses and fulfill more credits.

For students who are entering college with a large number of credits already (from AP classes, summer programs, or online platforms like StraighterLine), it can be relatively seamless to complete a double major within the traditional four years spent at college to earn your bachelor’s degree.

If you haven’t earned college credits before arriving on campus, however, keep in mind that a double major may take longer to fulfill than just a single major. In some cases, this may delay your graduation or necessitate a couple of extra courses, or even an extra semester — possibly costing more to complete a traditional college degree.

Ultimately, however, the time and finances needed to complete a double major will depend on your specific goals and ability to plan out your credits.

Can I Change My Major?

Most schools allow students to change their majors after they’ve been declared. In fact, about 80% of undergrads change their major at least once while in college. However, the more times you change majors, the longer it may be until you graduate because you’ll have new requirements to fulfill.

Explore College Major Options With StraighterLine!

You can easily explore different majors by taking a variety of affordable courses with StraighterLine. For a low monthly membership price, you can take unlimited online classes that allow you to see how certain subjects and fields “fit” before declaring a college major. StraighterLine also offers course packages for specific career pathways, like teaching, healthcare, and business.

Check out our complete list of 70+ courses to explore your interests!

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