How to Choose a Major - COLLEGEdata - College 411

How to Choose a Major

It's natural to want to have a major in mind when you start college. You can take steps now to make a choice—and still keep your options open.

To make a sound choice in a major, you'll need to do some soul-searching and solid research, and be prepared to test it out once you start college. Bear in mind that several majors may suit your academic goals.

Relax—a Major Is Not Forever

It can be daunting to commit yourself to a course of study for the next four years. As big a deal as it may seem, however, choosing a major is not a life-altering event.

  • A major is not the same as a career. A history major might enter many fields, from teaching to law. Future attorneys can enter law school with any number of majors, including history.
  • Your major is not what you will do for the rest of your life. You will have plenty of time to sort out your career choices as your interests and goals evolve during your college years.

Think About What You Like to Learn and Do

As a first step, identify what you enjoy learning—and what you enjoy doing outside class. Here are some questions you could ask yourself:

  • What subjects and activities fascinate me at school? Outside school?
  • What do I tend to work really hard on because I enjoy it?
  • What am I naturally good at?
  • What careers interest me, if any?

Connect What You Like to Learn to What You Can Study in College

Next, look at actual majors that seem related to your interests. If you're feeling "at sea," ask your counselor to help you.

  • Go on a "majors hunt" through college catalogs. Every college has a catalog that shows the courses that make up a major, and the requirements to graduate. You can find links to online catalogs on college websites and on the Academics tab of our College Profiles. Your high school counseling office may have a supply of printed college catalogs.
  • Look for majors that seem appealing. Do they focus on what you like to learn and do? Drill down to the descriptions of the courses in that major. Are course titles and descriptions intriguing? What are the required courses and do you think you could handle them? Make a note of any majors that stand out.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Choose!

Many students worry about picking the "right" major, or a "practical" major that leads to a job. But you will probably be a good fit in a number of majors. And many majors can help you develop basic work skills and try out potential jobs through internships.

  • Identify two or three majors that sound intriguing. Choose one and plan to check it out carefully once you get to college. Remember, you can usually change your mind once you get there. Most colleges offer a career services department to help students explore majors and careers and identify their strengths.
  • Keep your options open if you are still not sure what to study. Choose a major that is very broad, such as biology or English. You can choose a more specific major later. If your college does not require you to declare a major as a freshman, you can always enter as "undeclared" and spend your freshman and perhaps sophomore year investigating your options.

More Resources for Choosing a Major

  • You can consult books on choosing a major. You can also take tests that help you assess your strengths and personality and translate that information into potential majors and careers. Your high school counselor should be able to provide these tests or tell you where you can access them.
  • What Can I Do with This Major? is an online database created by the University of Tennessee that lists common career areas by major. It can give you a good idea of the types of majors that exist and the types of careers those majors might prepare you for.

What's Next?

  • To search for colleges with majors that interest you, and to see other majors colleges offer and their online catalogs, use College Match.
  • Once you have a major in mind, it makes sense to choose a college that is strong in that major. For some help with this process, check out How to Find Colleges with Strength in Your Major.