Do you know what you want to major in when you get to college? You're lucky if you do because you can focus on colleges that offer your major. If you don't even know what a major is, don't worry: Learning about majors can help you choose a school. And your classes there can help you find a major.
What's a major?
A major is the core academic discipline that you commit to studying or concentrating on as a college student. Students must successfully complete the series of classes prescribed for their academic major in order to earn a degree.
You can choose or "declare" a major around single academic subjects such as English, chemical engineering, philosophy, mathematics, or history, just to name a few.
You can even choose an interdisciplinary major like "American studies" that draws from several subjects such as literature, history, economics, sociology, and political science courses that focus on different aspects of American life.
Why declare a major?
Because if you don't, your school probably won't give you a degree.
Colleges and universities expect undergrads to demonstrate they are capable of a sustained and in-depth exploration of an established subject or topic.
Is choosing a major a life-changing decision?
It can be, but it doesn't have to be.
One of the myths behind choosing a major is that it locks you into a specific career path. Your college major is merely one of many factors that can shape your career path.
English majors have gone on to medical school; philosophy majors are at the helms of some major corporations; and math majors have gone into careers as varied as sports, entertainment, and politics.
Many employers look for college graduates who have demonstrated that they are problem solvers, critical thinkers, and effective communicators.
Unless you're going for a career that requires formal technical training — like engineering, accounting, finance, or the sciences — your choice of major may be helpful, but it is not critical to landing many jobs.
How do I choose a major?
When choosing a major, think of your hopes, your interests, and your strengths.
Your hopes …
Where do you want to be in 10 years? Does your dream job require a specific program of study or do you have a choice of what to major in?
Your interests …
Engineering programs, for example, are highly specialized and becoming a professional engineer means sticking with that course of study.
In contrast, many entry level jobs in journalism don't require a journalism degree. While you can choose to major in journalism at many schools, many successful journalists have degrees in other fields.
You're going to be spending a lot of time working on your major, so choose something you can get excited about. What's your passion? Look beyond the subjects where you do well. Get inspiration from your hobbies; get creative:
Your strengths …
- Do you like bugs? Some schools offer an entomology major.
- Do you enjoy sharing your latest creations at poetry slams? Check out the creative writing programs many schools offer.
- Do you enjoy managing your school football team? Want to manage the Steelers one day? Many schools offer majors in sports management, preparing students for careers in a variety of settings such as professional, intercollegiate, and interscholastic sport programs, health and sport clubs, sport arenas, and community recreational sports.
Assess your strengths and know your limits. If you're not very good with foreign languages — even if you like them —majoring in one might not be the best use of your education.
Additionally, get a sense of the challenges you'll face with a specific major. Advanced economics classes, for instance, involve heavy number-crunching. But if you're really passionate about this major, don't be dissuaded if you're not the best with math: Just be prepared to work harder.
When do I need to declare my major?
Many schools won't expect you to declare your major until the end of your sophomore year in college. Many students spend those first two years exploring general requirement courses (such as writing and literature, mathematics, history, a language, or a social science) before they declare a major.
Schools offering specialized programs (usually in the sciences or other technical fields) often require students to declare their major when they apply. This is because these programs require students to take courses in that major all four years in college.
Can I change my mind later?
Yes, you can.
You could switch if your major turns out not to be what you expected or if you're doing badly in it. Sometimes a class in another field inspires you so much that you decide to major in it instead.
Whatever the reason, remember that the later you make the switch, the bigger the chance of graduating later because you may need to catch up on your new major's requirements.
What's a minor?
Once you've declared your major, you can also select a second area for a "minor." Think of it as a "mini-major" — fewer classes and requirements.
Most major subjects are available as minors. This means that if you're stuck choosing between two areas for a major, having the option to minor in the other should make your choice easier.
You can choose to minor in a subject that's independent of your major — for example, majoring in history while minoring in biology. Alternatively, your minor can complement your major — in this case, majoring in mathematics while minoring in computer science.
What's a double major?
If you're ambitious and willing to make the effort, you could declare a double major.
Perhaps you've decided to turn your minor into a second major by taking more classes. Or maybe you declared a double major from the start of your college career.
Either way, be prepared to take the extra coursework required for both majors. In some cases, you may have to delay your graduation to do this.
Learning about college degrees
At the end of a path strewn with required courses and struggles choosing majors and minors is a diploma with your degree.