The Student’s Guide to Choosing a Major

Confused about how to choose a college major? Or feel like picking a major is stressing you out? Read our guide to get the help you need.

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by Staff Writers

Published on October 5, 2021 · Updated on July 22, 2022

Reviewed by Sarah Holliday, MS

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The Student’s Guide to Choosing a Major


Choosing a major can be tricky, especially if you have multiple passions or don't know what kind of career you want.

The reality is that many students change their majors. According to a 2020 BestColleges study, 3 in 5 college grads would change their majors if they could go back.

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Ready to start your journey?

Before you commit to a major, you should consider several factors, including the program cost, your salary expectations, and the employment rates in that field of study. In addition, you should think about your personality, your academic and professional goals, and your interests.

Here, we help you choose a major that resonates with your personal mission, values, and passions.

6 Key Factors to Consider When Choosing a Major

Choosing a major represents a significant step in the college process, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. Here are six factors to consider before choosing a major.

1. What Are Your Biggest Priorities?

Some students pursue certain majors primarily based upon salary potential and job demand. Other students choose majors they're passionate about or highly skilled in.

Before you choose a major, think about which of these three factors — economic advantage, interest level, and ability — are most important and relevant to you and your goals.

2. What Are You Interested In?

Studies have found that students tend to perform better in school when they can focus on their interests. Unfortunately, it's not always easy for people to identify their interests.

To get help with this, consider taking a personality quiz. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire can help you determine subjects that closely align with your personality and interests.

This popular assessment uses your habits and attitudes to generate one of 16 personality types, written as a combination of four letters. Examples include ISFJ (introverted, sensing, feeling, and judging) and ENTP (extroverted, intuitive, thinking, and perceiving).

You can also explore potential areas of study and career paths by joining student clubs, volunteering, working a part-time job on campus, managing a side hustle, or completing an internship.

3. What Are You Good At?

Understanding your natural skills and talents can go a long way in helping you make an informed and confident decision when choosing a major.

It may be your parents' dream for you to be an artist, but what if you skew more toward business or science? Just because someone else has a degree path in mind doesn't mean it's right for you.

One way to determine which academic fields best suit you is to take a close look at your high school grades and your ACT or SAT scores. Doing this can highlight your strengths in specific academic areas.

4. What Are the Highest-Paying Fields?

When considering which major to pursue, determine how important salary and salary potential weigh into your decision-making process. If you're motivated by high earnings, pursuing a degree in a STEM-related field may appeal to you.

That said, some students care more about the importance of their work than the salary offered; they don't want a job just for the money. Popular non-STEM majors include human services, education, and visual or performing arts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a regularly updated list of positions offering the highest salaries. Psychiatrists rank high on this list, as do other healthcare professionals like oral and maxillofacial surgeons, obstetricians and gynecologists, and general internal medicine physicians.

If you want a job outside health and medicine, positions with high salaries include chief executive, physicist, computer and information systems manager, and architectural and engineering manager.

5. How Rigorous Will the Coursework Be?

Some majors may feel harder than others due to factors like the heaviness of homework loads, course expectations, and the frequency of exams. Classes in your major will make up a significant portion of your college course load. Before you declare a major, make sure you understand how rigorous your weekly workload will be.

Indiana University Bloomington's 2016 National Survey of Student Engagement determined the most difficult majors based on the average time students spent per week preparing for classes. The hardest majors included architecture, chemical engineering, and aeronautical engineering.

Easier majors, which typically required less prep time, included fields like criminal justice, communication, and public relations.

6. What Does Your Academic Advisor Say?

Checking in with your academic advisor is an important step to take when deciding on a major.

Your advisor has likely had similar conversations with hundreds of students and can provide insight into picking a major. They may even propose a major you hadn't previously considered that meets your academic and career goals.

When speaking with an academic advisor, remember that their time is valuable and limited. Come to the meeting with a list of thoughtful questions to ask.

Have More Questions Before Heading Back to School?

Dive into our collection of back-to-school resources to find tips, checklists, and insights from real students.

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Should You Double Major in College?

Undergraduates aren't necessarily limited to one field of study. Most colleges and universities allow you to double major or even triple major. Normally, students who double major choose two academic fields that complement each other, though you're not required to do this.

For example, if you wanted to pursue a career in international business, you might double major in business management and a foreign language. Other popular major combinations include:

If you don't have enough room in your class schedule to pursue two majors, you can declare a minor in a secondary subject that interests you.

What If You Want to Design Your Own Major?

Recognizing that many learners have specific interests and career aspirations, many colleges now allow you to design your own interdisciplinary major. If you're considering this path, be sure to carefully review existing majors to ensure no existing option meets your needs.

Next, consider whether your proposed individual major meets current and future career requirements.

Lastly, speak with your advisor to get their input on important classes to include in your curriculum. You can also speak to other students who created their own majors to learn about the pros and cons of this decision.

Some examples of student-created majors include music and technology, public education history, and psychology of marketing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Choosing a Major

When do you have to declare a major?

When you have to depend a major depends on the college. In general, most schools require you to declare a major by the end of your sophomore year. Some students may start college with a declared major or undecided. Individual departments may also set their own rules, so it's critical you ask ahead of time about deadlines for choosing a major.

Even if you pick a major, you can always change it later on. Just note that the later you change your major, the more time you may need to spend in college in order to meet your new major's credit requirements.

What should you do if you can't decide on a major?

If you can't decide on a major, you have several options. For example, you might decide to take a few classes from different disciplines to help narrow your choices and see which subjects appeal to you the most and which you perform best in.

You can also meet with your academic advisor to review the pros and cons of the various majors you're considering. They can offer advice for figuring out which major(s) may work well for you based on factors like your level of interest, your class grades, and your career goals.

Can you change your major?

Yes, you can always change your major. In fact, a 2020 BestColleges study found that 3 in 5 graduates wished they could go back and change their majors. To change your major, you must meet with your academic advisor and go over your plans.

Note that if you complete a lot of classes related to one major and then later decide to switch to another, you may need to stay in school longer than the typical four years in order to meet your new major's credit requirements. This can add significant costs to your degree.

Does it look bad to colleges if you apply with an undecided major?

No. Generally speaking, colleges want students to think carefully about their decisions and not rush into any major if they're unsure. Admissions committees understand that choosing a major is a big decision, especially for applicants who are still in high school.

That said, some universities may require you to apply for a particular major so you can gain admission to the relevant school or department. This is usually the case with more professional majors like nursing and business.

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