Choose your college major

So, What Are You Going to Do With Your Life? Some students start college knowing exactly what they'd like to major in. Others don't know what to major in, or have a career goal but no knowledge of what majors will get them there. Most find themselves switching majors during college. Here are some tips, no matter where you fall in this range.

What is a college major?  You're required to major in a specific academic subject (or professional field) to demonstrate sustained, high-level work in one field. Depending on the college, you might be able to major in two fields, have a major and a minor, or even create your own major.

When should I declare a major? At most colleges, you aren't required to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. If you're in a two-year degree program, you'll probably select a major at the start because your course of studies is much shorter.

How do I choose? First- and second-year students usually take more general courses while they try and decide on a major. After this initial shopping period, coursework becomes more focused and specific. Make sure that you have genuine interest, though. You don't want to choose a major by process of elimination—that could take a while.

Take courses in areas that appeal to you, then try and focus on a subject that will interest and motivate you. You'll do better, and your motivation will continue through college and into a job.

What if I want to go to grad school? If you think law school, medical school, or grad school is in your future, some schools offer pre-professional advising programs (such as premed or prelaw). These programs are not the same as majors—you'll still need to choose a major in another subject. As long as you fulfill a grad school's course requirements, it really doesn't matter what you major in.

Does my major dictate my profession? Sometimes. If you specialize in something like nursing, accounting, or engineering, you're learning a specific trade and will likely continue with that. Most majors, however, prepare you for a range of careers that you can be trained to handle once you graduate. For most students, picking a college major is not the same as picking a career. It will be up to you to pursue what you like.

Major Myths

"What will you major in?" Does that all-too-familiar question send you into a panic? Relax. You're still in high school, and you have plenty of time to choose a major. In fact, declaring your major early on limits the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity college offers: to explore different fields and discover ones you haven't even heard of yet. 

Why do students worry so much about choosing a major? Unfortunately, there are a lot of untruths floating around. Here's your chance to compare myth to reality. 

College is a waste of time if I don’t know what I want to major in. In the case of most majors, you don't have to declare yourself until the end of your sophomore year. Until then, you can take courses in a variety of fields, earning general education credits that count toward your degree, no matter what you major in. As you take different classes, you’ll likely find a major you love. 

It is true that many majors, particularly those not in the liberal arts, are packed with required courses that have to be taken in sequence. Starting one of those majors after your freshman year can mean that it will take you longer to complete your degree. However, you can often begin taking classes in the field before you formally declare your major.

Once I choose a major, I’m stuck with it. Studies find that most students change majors at least once, and many switch several times before they settle on one. So if you’re not entirely sure which major is right for you—or even if you are sure—don’t pick a college only for its program in one major. Instead, consider colleges that offer a range of options. That way, changing majors won't necessarily require changing colleges, too. 

To become a doctor or a lawyer, I have to major in premed or prelaw. It might surprise you to know that majoring in premed or prelaw is impossible at almost every school. Instead, most schools offer advising programs—including not only premed and prelaw, but also pre-veterinary, pre-pharmacy, and more—that guide students through the process of preparing for and applying to professional school. 

In addition to participating in one of these programs, you'll need to declare a major. As long as you fulfill the admission requirements (taking certain classes, not a major), you can major in just about anything. In fact, professional schools often look for well-rounded students with diverse backgrounds. 

Choosing one major means giving up all the others. There are many ways to diversify your studies to include coursework in more than one major. You may be able to double major or choose a minor area of study, taking several courses in a field that brings something new and complementary to your major area of study.                                  

Another option is the interdisciplinary major. These majors are organized around a theme, not a single subject area. Instead of majoring in Spanish, History, or Literature, for example, you can major in Latin American studies and take classes in all three areas as well as Political Science, Economics, Anthropology, and more. 

Liberal Arts majors equal unemployment. True, if you choose a major outside the liberal arts, you'll step onto a direct path to a career, learning skills targeted to a specific profession, such as engineering. But Liberal Arts majors build broad intellectual skills, such as reasoning and judgment, and practical skills in research and writing. This general training enables liberal arts graduates
to adapt to a variety of graduate programs and careers. 

I'll never find a major that fits me perfectly. With hundreds and hundreds of majors out there, it's likely that you'll find one right for you. Even if you don't, there's still hope: at many colleges, you can design your own major. If you create an individualized major, you'll select a theme and then develop it with courses from a number of different traditional majors. A proposal and request will need to be submitted and approved by the campus to for your individualized major.  

Will Shortz, crossword puzzle editor of the New York Times, did it: he majored in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles, at Indiana University. Other examples of build-your-own majors include studies in humor, human diversity, sound, biomedical ethics, religion and art, and social justice.

The Truth About Majors

Despite all the anxiety surrounding majors, the reality is that you'll probably take only a quarter to a third of
your college courses in your field of study. Career-oriented majors, such as Business, Nursing, Engineering, Architecture and design majors, are exceptions to this rule. 

Starting college without having your major picked out isn't a bad thing. It's a chance to experiment. If something
in the course catalog catches your interest, try it out. Who knows…that course in Entomology could end up being the most fascinating class you’ve ever taken. It could even lead you to major in the field. Remember, you're not alone. Choosing a major is usually done with the help of numerous people in your life. Feel free to talk to instructors, counselors, coaches, admisitrators, family, and friends to help you weigh your options.