A Complete Guide to Choosing a College Major
You have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to choosing which colleges to apply to, and one factor that might influence your balanced college list is choosing a college major.
Some students already know what they want to major in, and this may influence which colleges they apply to. For other students, the choice of undergraduate major may be a bit less certain. If you’re undecided about a major, it won’t hurt your chances of admission. However, you still need to decide on a major once you’re enrolled.
What Is a Major?
A major is your primary area of study and will make up the majority of your classes. It’s the foundation of your undergraduate career and is typically related to your future career path. For example, if you plan to become a teacher, you should choose a major in education.
Your major doesn’t always have to be related to the career you plan to pursue after college. If you plan to go to medical school, for example, you have a variety of pre-med majors to choose from, such as biology, math, social sciences, and the humanities. The same goes for law school. Students in pre-law majors can pursue almost any academic discipline.
What’s the Difference Between a Major and a Minor?
Many students also choose a minor—a secondary area of study that also requires several courses but isn’t as much of a focus as a major. College students often choose a minor that complements the major, but that’s not a requirement. For example, you can pursue a major in economics and a minor in statistics.
When Do You Declare a Major?
You will typically stand out more as an applicant if you apply to a certain program during the admissions process. This demonstrates your passion for a specialty or a particular career path.
However, you can still enroll as undecided or select a major such as “general studies” that can be changed later if you wish.
Deciding when to declare your major will largely depend on what college you attend. Many colleges do not require you to declare a major until your sophomore year. You should review the policies at your top-choice schools regarding the process of declaring a major.
What Are the Best Majors?
Ultimately, the best major is the one that aligns with your interests, values, and goals. After all, you will be devoting most of your time as an undergrad focusing on this discipline, so it should be something you feel passionate about.
However, you may want to get the best value out of your degree in terms of your future profession and earnings. That’s why students often choose to major in disciplines that will give them the best career opportunities and highest salaries. STEM majors—science, technology, engineering, and math—are popular for this reason. Business and health majors can also lead to excellent career options.
Engineering, one of the STEM disciplines, is a popular area of study. If you enroll in an engineering program, you can typically choose a specialty such as civil, mechanical, or chemical engineering. Traditionally, students interested in becoming engineers would enroll at large universities that offer robust engineering programs, but more are opting to enjoy the college experience of small liberal arts schools that offer more interdisciplinary curricula.
Liberal arts majors have been declining in recent years due to the demand for STEM disciplines. However, there are still many benefits of liberal arts degrees like English, history, and the creative arts. Students who major in liberal arts disciplines gain skills such as critical thinking, research, analytical reasoning, creativity, oral and written communication, collaboration, and decision making, among others. These skills are highly valuable to employers. Additionally, liberal arts subjects are often considered a general area of study that can apply to multiple fields and industries, allowing for more flexibility in volatile job markets.
You can have the best of both worlds. Some colleges allow you to pursue a liberal arts and STEM education combo curriculum. In some cases, students can choose double majors and earn two bachelor’s degrees—one in a liberal arts field and the other in STEM.
Are you interested in studying the institutions and social structures of human societies? If so, you might consider a major in sociology. Studying this discipline can provide a good foundation for numerous professions and gives you the flexibility to explore a wide range of interests. Sociology majors learn valuable quantitative and qualitative research and analysis skills that are needed in a variety of fields. In addition, pursuing a sociology major can help you better understand and appreciate the diversity of the global community.
If you’ve always been fascinated by filmmaking and dream of making it a career, you’re in luck. There are several colleges for filmmaking majors. In general, you will learn the process of carrying out your vision, taking a script from the pre-production phase to post-production editing. Your coursework may include screenwriting, documentary filmmaking, cinematography, visual effects, and animation, among others.
What if your passions don’t quite align with traditional areas of study? You might consider colleges with unique majors. More schools are now offering innovative and creative majors that break the mold. And in some cases, you may even be able to craft your own course of study that meets your needs.
5 Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Major
If you have a wide range of interests, you may find it hard to narrow down your choices for a major. Considering these five key factors may help you decide the right field of study for you.
#1 Identify Interests, Values, Passions, and Skills
As we’ve mentioned before, your choice of major should align with your interests and skills to ensure your satisfaction and success in college. This is one reason why interests matter in the admissions process.
#2 Consider Your Career Goals
You may not know exactly what you want to do after college, but you likely have a few ideas. Examine the connections between majors and potential careers you are interested in.
#3 Meet and Talk to Advisors and Experts
As you weigh your options, you may find it helpful to speak with trusted adults. School counselors and teachers are excellent resources. An academic advisor at your top-choice school can also discuss areas of study and career paths with you.
#4 Understand That You Can Change Your Mind
Declaring a major is not a lifetime commitment. If you are pursuing one discipline and change your mind, you can always switch majors. Many students do. However, you may have to complete additional coursework, especially if you’re further along in your degree program. This is why a trusted academic advisor is critical to your educational success. They can help you evaluate your academic options and help you make a smooth transition from one major to another if you choose.
#5 Research Salaries Related to Areas of Study
Your choice of major often determines your career path. So, it’s helpful to do some research so you know what kind of salary you can expect based on your major.
What to Do if You Don’t Know What to Major In
It’s ok to apply to college undeclared if you don’t know what to major in. But you should still continue to explore and focus your interests to find the academic area that you eventually want to specialize in. It’s fantastic to have a diverse range of skills and passions, but that can make choosing a major difficult. It can also be stressful when you don’t know what to major in. This is where guidance from a college counselor or academic advisor can help. They can help you narrow down your interests, better delve into subjects of interest, and suggest majors you never considered. If you’re looking for expert guidance to help you choose a major and apply to your best-fit schools, set up an Initial Consultation with an IvyWise counselor.