How to Pick a Major in College: Steps to Making the Right Choice

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Last updated Feb 22, 2024 | Published on Feb 22, 2024

How to Pick a Major in College: Steps to Making the Right Choice

Wondering, “What should I major in?”

As a college student, choosing a major can seem like a daunting task. You may have no idea what you think you might want, or you might find it impossible to choose between a few different fields. You might even feel pressure to go one direction from outside influences. And, let’s be real: There are so many majors. It is like going into the cereal aisle at a grocery store — leading to the common “choice overload” or “analysis paralysis.”

College Choice OverloadYou might also feel as if picking a major forecasts the rest of your life. 

Au contraire, mon frère.

Choosing a major does not mean you must follow a certain path for the rest of your life. For example, you can major in chemistry and still become an insurance adjuster. Furthermore, many students change their majors at least once during the college search process — that is normal!

Knowing that, let’s walk through the steps of how to pick a major in college. 

What is a major in college?

Exactly what does it mean when a student says, “I’m a physics major?”

A major is a specific field of study or a concentrated area of academic focus you choose to pursue. You typically have the opportunity to declare a major, which represents the primary subject or discipline you will focus on for a significant portion of your undergraduate education.

How do you declare a major?

“Declaring a major” simply means you officially choose your major. Your advisor will help you through the process, which consists of going over general education requirements, required core classes, and a list of electives. You will choose classes for both your major and your minor.

Some colleges and universities have a “major declaration day” or a similar event, in which they organize specific events or designated periods during the academic year to encourage students to officially declare their majors. 

These events provide students with information and resources about majors so they can make informed decisions about potential majors. Major declaration days might include information sessions, workshops, advising services, department representatives on hand to answer questions and talk about opportunities within each major. 

Major declaration day events typically offer a positive and celebratory atmosphere around the decision-making process, which can help alleviate any stress or uncertainty students may feel about choosing a major. Colleges may use these events to remind students of any deadlines related to major declaration, course registration, or other academic milestones.

How to choose a major

Confused how to pick a major in college? Campus to Career Crossroads can help you!

How to know what to major in? Choosing the right major can have a lifelong impact on your future and career. Take the following steps to choose the right major for you. 

Step 1: Conduct a self-assessment. 

How to decide what to major in? 

First step: Reflect on your interests, passions, and strengths. Consider the subjects you enjoy studying and the activities you find fulfilling. Identify your skills and abilities. What are you good at? What did you enjoy doing as a kid? What subjects or tasks come naturally to you? Explore your career goals and aspirations. Research the types of jobs that align with different majors.

Step 2: Explore your options. 

Take introductory courses in different fields to get a feel for the subjects, like Business Management 101. Attend career fairs, workshops, and informational sessions. Schedule meetings with academic advisors or career counselors, who can provide valuable insights, guidance, and information about different majors. 

You can also participate in extracurricular activities related to different majors to gain hands-on experience and a better understanding of the field.

Engage with student organizations related to your interests, participate in summer programs, undergo career assessments (you know them as a college major quiz), seek opportunities to shadow professionals in your desired field, volunteer with local nonprofits aligned with your interests, and enroll in exploratory workshops.

Also consider researching job market trends. What is the job market like for the industry you’re considering? Some majors may have higher demand than others. Find a balance between pursuing your passions and considering the practicality of your chosen major in terms of future employment opportunities.

Exploring Careers

Job boards can help you discover potential career paths related to your major. Browse through the listed jobs and take note of titles and descriptions that resonate with you and explore various search terms related to your interests. Make a comparison between local and nationwide job opportunities. You’ll have a clearer understanding of the specialized classes needed for success and can start networking with individuals who can support you in pursuing your future career.

Learn more: Chairwoman Sharon Birkman discusses the unique benefits of the Birkman Assessment to learn about a how to pick a major in college.

Step 3: Research graduation requirements. 

Understand the requirements for graduation in each major. You should be able to find these in the online course catalog at your school, or you can meet with an advisor to discuss them in depth. Consider how well these requirements align with your academic preferences and goals.

Step 4: Take general education requirements first. 

General education classes are core classes you are required to take as part of your graduation requirements. You might not get too excited about taking certain general education classes, but they may introduce you to fields you did not consider for your major. 

For example, let’s say you enjoyed English classes in high school but it was not top of mind as a major. You end up taking a literature course as a general education course and realize how much you enjoy the class. You may be amazed at how it inspires you to become an English major. See how that works?

Taking general education requirements is a great tactic if you really do not have a clue what you want your major to be in the future. Many times, it is a professor who awakens your curiosity in a major or course of study. For example, you might take Biology 101 with an incredible professor who encourages you and inspires you to become a wildlife biologist.

Step 5: Connect with others. 

Network with professionals in various fields through networking events, informational interviews, or internships. Learn about their career paths and experiences.

You can also talk to current students in different majors to get their perspectives and insights.

Step 6: Know that it’s okay to change your mind. 

Keep in mind that it is okay to change your major if your interests or career goals evolve. College is a time for exploration and self-discovery. You may enter college with a general idea of your interests, but as you explore different courses and gain more exposure to various subjects, your preferences may evolve. You might change your major for a variety of reasons:

  • Personal growth: As you learn more about yourself and your interests, you may find that your initial choice of major no longer aligns with your passions and goals. You change over time. As you gain more knowledge and life experiences, your perspectives and interests may shift, leading you to reconsider your academic focus.
  • Exploration: College provides the opportunity to explore a wide range of subjects. You might discover new academic interests or areas of study that resonate with you more than your original major. Exploring internships, talking to professionals in different fields, and gaining hands-on experience can also influence your career goals.
  • Flexibility: Colleges and universities understand that students change their majors often, and they often provide “padding” in the academic schedule so students can graduate on time.
  • Career transitions: Some students change their majors to better prepare for specific career paths or to align with changing career goals. It can benefit you in adapting to evolving job markets.

What to Avoid When Choosing a Major

What about what to avoid when choosing a major? 

Following Trends Blindly

This is exactly the time you do not want to follow the crowd — you want to choose the right major for you based on your skills, interests, and other factors that pertain to you. The worst thing you can do is look at a list of “most popular college majors” and make decisions that way. Your major is uniquely for you — select a major that aligns with your long-term interests and goals and nobody else’s. Otherwise, you could end up unhappy for the duration of your college career and possibly for the rest of your life! 

Ignoring Personal Interests and Passions

Don’t choose a major based on the fact that it “pays the most” or “has the most prestige.” Consider your own interests and strengths instead, ensuring that you have a full, engaging academic experience. It could also ensure that you do exactly what you need to do to have a fulfilling career as well. Paying attention to those instincts will serve you well.

Also consider your personal values, long-term goals, and lifestyle preferences. If a major conflicts with your values or does not support the life you envision after graduation, do not even consider entertaining that option. 

Another quick note: Students may also initially select a major based on its appealing description, only to realize later that it significantly differs from their expectations.

Ignoring Career Opportunities

Don’t choose a major without considering all the career paths. You could miss out on opportunities by not considering all the careers available to you. For example, it is a mistake to think that English majors can “only” teach — you can tap into dozens of other careers. You may not have heard of them yet, and some may not have yet been invented!

Overlooking Skill Development

Review Your Skills and Abilities When Determining Your MajorConsider the skills you will gain from your major. Avoid choosing a major that doesn’t provide valuable and transferable skills. Employability is often tied to the skills you acquire during your academic experience. 

Not Considering Program Quality 

Does your college or university have an excellent track record in the particular major you’re considering? It is important to ensure that the program has great faculty, resources and facilities. If you are concerned about program quality, you may need to seriously reevaluate your decisions. You may even have to consider transferring schools.

Ignoring Financial Considerations

Do not forget to research starting and potential future salary. Avoid choosing a major that could lead to significant student loan debt without evaluating your plan for repaying your student loans. However, do not make that the only route for your decision, because many people have found success in areas that traditionally don’t have a high-pay track record.

Rushing the Decision

Take time to make a decision. In many cases, you have a couple of years to make the decision. Explore different majors, attend informational sessions, and talk to your academic advisor. Be like the tortoise in “The Tortoise in and the Hare,” because a slow, steady decision always wins in this situation — especially if you are not sure.  

Disregarding Flexibility

What if your intended major is not flexible enough? Some majors offer a wide variety of career options, while others may be more specialized. If you are absolutely sure that all you want to become a teacher, you will likely be okay with an education major, but if you need more flexibility in your intended major, choose one that allows for adaptability in case your interests or goals evolve.

Neglecting Networking Opportunities

Building a professional network is crucial for career success. Do not overlook the importance of networking opportunities related to your major. Attend events, connect with alumni, and explore internships to build valuable connections in your field.

Heavily Considering Family or Peer Preferences

Many students face external pressure from family and peers, who nudge them toward majors that lack personal interest. Alternatively, some students delegate the decision-making process to authority figures, while others make uninformed choices that may lead to dissatisfaction. Do what is best for you and nobody else — yes, even if your dear grandfather says you should major in engineering but you hate math.

Should You Double Major in College?

Undergraduate students can explore multiple fields of study, including pursuing a double major or even triple major. Those who choose to double (or triple) major often opt for two academic fields that complement each other.

For example, you may consider double majoring in a few popular combinations as you learn how to pick your major: 

  • Physics and engineering
  • Accounting and business management
  • Political science and economics
  • History and anthropology
  • Health sciences and public health

However, the majors do not have to relate to each other. In cases where scheduling constraints limit the pursuit of two majors, students have the option to declare a minor in a secondary subject of interest.

What If You Want to Design Your Own Major?

If your college does not offer it, consider creating it for yourself! Numerous colleges now offer a “make-your-own-major” opportunity to acknowledge students’ varied interests and goals. Thoroughly examine existing majors to confirm that none align with your requirements before you go this route.

Career Goals Will Guide You How to Pick a Major in College Also assess whether your envisioned individual major aligns with present and future career demands. Seek guidance from your advisor and talk with other students who have designed their own majors. Some examples could include: 

  • Digital humanities
  • Biopsychology
  • Health informatics
  • Media and cultural studies

Carefully Consider Your Major

Still wondering how to choose your major, even after all that information? Understandable — your major is an important decision! However, it does not make or break your career trajectory. Only you can decide that as your career evolves. 

Reach out to Campus to Career Crossroads for more information about how to pick a major in college and take advantage of our career assessments.

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