How to Choose Your College Major

What Should I Major In?? 🧐

In conversations surrounding college decisions, it seems that the most important question, second only to the ever-intimidating “where?” is “what?” (As in, “What is your major?” Or “What are you going to major in?”). The concept of majors seems so foreign to high schoolers, and everyone has a ton of questions as they are first starting out. Don’t worry—we got you covered. There’s a big world out there, with lots of different options in courses of study. We are here to help guide you on the journey of figuring out what the best course of action is for you (big emphasis here - no two journeys are ever the same!)

What Do You Mean by “Major” and “Minor”? Is There a Difference?

When you go to college, the end goal is, of course, an education, as well as a degree (which is just a fancy certificate designating the completion of a program). Once you get to college, at some point (usually before your junior year), you declare a major, which is just fancy terms for deciding what subject you would like to get a degree in. There’s a wide variety of options, and these options will also depend on what school you go to. It can be broad areas of study, such as math, biology, or English, or more specific as it narrows down to specific careers, such as “Secondary Education” or “Mechanical Engineering.” Declaring a specific path will enroll you in a program, which will require you to complete a certain amount of general education (gen ed) courses depending on the type of degree (more on that in a bit) as well as courses specific to your major.

A minor is the same concept, without committing to the full requirements of a major. For example, a degree in Spanish may require 9 full courses, 4 being at a specific (high) level. On the other side, a minor may only require 5 courses, and fewer at the higher level. It allows an exploration of an area of study without full commitment to a major.

Many students also pursue a double-major and/or a double-minor (although the combination of the two is NOT recommended). This just means completing more requirements, but allowing yourself to have a deeper foundation in more specific areas of study.

There Are Different Types of Degrees? 😱

Oh, yes. This seems kind of complicated at first, but it’s really not so bad. As you may already know, there are “levels,” such as Associate’s (usually 2 years), Bachelor’s (usually 4 years), Master’s (post-graduate), and Doctoral (post-graduate). If you are planning on attending a 4-year university, you’re probably going to receive a Bachelor’s degree, and the official titles can be anywhere from a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), a B.S. (Bachelor of Science), a B.M. (Bachelor of Music), or a B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts).

Unless you’re pursuing a degree in music performance or visual arts, you don’t really need to worry about the latter two. While the Bachelor of Arts sounds restricting, it is an umbrella degree for basically any program you can think of, whereas a Bachelor of Science is more specific to STEM-related majors. The real difference between which one you pursue depends on the gen ed requirements. One is not necessarily better than the other.

Below is an example of what a degree breakdown might look like for a B.A. or a B.S. (remember that a B.M. or B.F.A. would likely have a larger quantity of credits take place within the major). This infographic is taken from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, but would be very similar across many schools.

Infographic Taken From UW-Madison.

How Do I Choose a Major? 😬

If you have an idea of what kind of job you might enjoy, that’s a great place to start. Do some research as to what common college programs are for that job/career. If you know people in those jobs, ask them what they did in college.

If you’re still stuck on this, think about some classes you particularly enjoyed in high school, and browse the College Board website. It is categorized by majors and careers, and makes for great browsing as you explore your options! This is especially a great place to start if you’re still undecided.

There are also tons of majors quizzes on the internet including this majors and career quiz from Arizona State University! They are a great way to learn more about your passions and explore different majors.

Can I Enter College Undecided? Can I Change My Major? 😅

Yes and yes! Plenty of people do both of these things! There is absolutely no shame in changing your mind, and it’s a lot better to do so while still in college than to regret your major later on in life! Most schools are very accommodating of any kinds of switches, whether the change is similar/related or completely new. These changes can include adding or dropping a major or minor (or switching a minor to a major or vice versa).

As mentioned earlier, most schools don’t require you to actually declare a major until your junior year. A lot of students will enter college undecided and work toward their gen ed requirements in their first year, as well as take courses that sound interesting until they come across a program that seems particularly intriguing, and they decide to continue it further. (Remember, when you declare a major, you’re committing to taking a bunch of classes specific to that subject! If you hate math, you may not want to pursue statistics )

Top Tips For Choosing a Major

1. Compare Specific Programs

The biology major at one school will look entirely different than the biology major at another school. Furthermore, you may decide that you are actually more interested in the courses that come along with the biochemistry degree than the biology degree. Do your research both across schools and within some of your favorites to find the option that really excites you!

2. Consider Your Future

Do you have a plan after college? (It’s 100% ok if you don’t . . . most don’t.) There are some degrees that might be more appealing to graduate programs, and others that might be more appealing to the job market. Especially those of you considering specific graduate schools, such as medical school, law school, or an MBA program. Do some quick research to see what those programs look for in applicants. (Maybe the Pre-Med track is more appealing, or maybe a degree in Neuroscience will suffice.)

3. Ignore the “Worst College Majors” Listicles

We hate these SO MUCH. Of course, some careers are in higher demand than others, but it will always be that way. Please don’t make yourself miserable pursuing a degree in Architecture if you would rather write a 10 page paper on the symbolism in Frankenstein for a British Literature course. If you’re passionate enough about your field of study, you will be able to find opportunities to apply it in your vocation, we promise. It may not be exactly what you’d expect, but it will be a lot better than a “guaranteed” job that you hate. Life is too short to regret your college degree.

Whew! See, college major stuff isn’t so bad, right? If any of this is still confusing or overwhelming to you, that’s alright! I just threw a LOT of information at you. If you’re starting to tour/apply to specific schools, see if you can talk to either your admissions counselor, an academic advisor, or a professor to receive more specific information on the programs that school might have to offer, and what outcomes they typically see from students similar to you.

Again, it’s ok to have a grand total of nothing figured out for yourself; most students are in the same boat! Trust the process, follow your passion, and try new things! You will never know what you might find out (especially about yourself) in the process

For more help with the majors process, check out this article about discovering your major!

Check out these other guides that you might need.