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How To Choose A College Major

Updated on June 16, 2010

There are so many choices.....


One decision that troubles many students in higher education is the choice of an academic major. Here iingnks an opportunity to apply your skills at critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving. The following four suggestions can guide you through this process.


1. Discover options

Follow the fun.   Maybe you look forward to attending one of your classes and even like completing the assignments.  This is a clue to your choice of major.  See if you can find lasting patterns in the subjects and extracurricular activities that you have enjoyed over the years.  Look for a major that allows you to continue and expand on these experiences.  Also sit down with a stack of 3 x 5 cards and brainstorm answers to the following questions:

  • What do you enjoy doing most with your unscheduled time?
  • Imagine that you are at a party and having a fascinating conversation.  What is this conversation about?
  • What websites do you visit frequently  or have bookmarked in a web browser?
  • What kind of problems do you enjoy solving - those that involve people?  Products?  Ideas?
  • What interests are revealed by your choices of reading material, television shows, and other entertainment?
  • What would an ideal day look like for you?  Describe where you would live, who would be with you, and what you would do throughout the day.  Do any of these visions suggest a possible major?
Questions like these are not frivolous.  They an uncover a "fun factor" that energizes you to finish the work of completing a major.

Albert Einstein

Consider ability

When choosing a major, ability counts as much as interest.  Einstein enjoyed playing the violin, but his love of music didn't override his choice of a career in science.  In addition to considering what you enjoy, think about times and places when you excelled.  List the courses that you "aced", the work assignments that you mastered, and the hobbies that led to rewards or recognition.  Let your choice of a major reflect a discovery of your passions and potentials. 


Use formal techniques for self-discovery

Writing is a path to the kind of self-knowledge involved in choosing a major. Consider questionnaires and inventories that are designed to correlate your interests with specific majors. Examples include the Strong Interest Inventory and the Self-Directed Search. Your academic advisor or someone at your school's job placement office can give you more details about these and related inventories. For fun, take several of them and meet with an advisor to interpret the results. Remember that there is no questionnaire, inventory, test, or formula for choosing a major or career. Likewise, there is no expert who can make the choice for you. Inventories can help you gain self-knowledge, and other people can offer valuable perspectives. However, what you do with all this input is entirely up to you.

What kind of life do you want?

Link to long-term goals

You're choice of a major can fall into place once you determine what you want in life. Before you choose a major, list your core values, such as contributing to society, achieving financial security and professional recognition, enjoying good health, or making time for fun. Also write down specific goals that you want to accomplish in 5 years, 10 years, even 50 years from today. Many students find the prospect of getting what they want in life justifies all of the time, money, and day-to-day effort invested in going to school. Having a major gives you a powerful incentive for attending classes, taking part in discussions, reading textbooks, writing papers, and completing other assignments. When you see a clear connection between finishing school and creating the life of your dreams, the daily tasks of higher education become charged with meaning. Studies indicate that the biggest factor associated with completing a degree in higher education is commitment to personal goals. A choice of major reflects those goals.

Ask other people

Key people in your life might have valuable suggestions about your choice of major. Ask for their ideas and listen with an open mind. At the same time, distance yourself from any pressure to choose a major or career that fails to interest you. If you make a choice based solely on the expectations of other people, you could end up with a major or even a career you don't enjoy.

Gather information

Check your school's catalog for a list of available majors.  Here is a gold mine of information. Take a quick glance and highlight all the majors that interest you.  Then talk to students who have declared them.  Also read descriptions of courses required for these majors.  Chat with instructors who teach courses in these areas and ask for a copy of their class syllabi.  Go to the bookstore and browse required texts.  Based on all of this information, write  a list of possible majors.  Discuss them with an academic advisor and someone at your career planning center.

Invent a major

When choosing a major, you might not need to limit yourself to those listed in your school catalog.  Many schools now have flexible programs that allow for independent study.  Through such programs you might be able to combine two existing majors, or invent an entirely new one of your own.

psycology and business administration

Think Criticallhy about the link between your major and your career

Your career goals might have a significant impact on your choice of major. For an overview or career planning and an immediate chance to put your ideas down on paper. On the other hand you might be able to pursue a rewarding career by choosing among several different majors. Even students planning to apply to law school or medical school have flexibility in their choice of majors.  In addition, many people are employed in jobs with little relationship to their major.  You might also choose a career in the future that is unrelated to any currently available major.

First major that comes to mind

2. Make a trial choice

At many schools declaring a major offers some benefits.  For example, you might get priority when registering  for certain classes and qualify for special scholarships or grants.  Don't delay such benefits.  Even if you feel undecided, you probably have a good idea about  what your major will be.  To verify this, do a simple experiment. Pretend that you have to choose a major today.  Based on the options you have already discovered, write down the first three ideas that come to mind.  Review the list for just a few minutes and then just choose one.  Hold onto your list, however.  It reflects your current intuition or "gut feelings," and it may come in handy during the next step.  This step might confirm your trial choice of major - or return you to one of the majors that you originally listed.

Design a series of experiments to evaluate and test

3. Evaluate your trial choice

When you've made a trial choice of major, take on the roll as a scientist. Treat your choice as a hypothesis and then design a series of exivperiments to evaluate and test it. For example:

  • Schedule office meetings with instructors who teach courses in the major. Ask about required course work and career options in the field.
  • Discuss your trial choice with an academic advisor or career counselor.
  • Enroll in a course related to your possible major. Remember that introductory courses might not give you a realistic picture of the workloads involved in advanced course. Also, you might not be lete able to register for certain courses until you have decided on a related major.
  • Find a volunteer experience, internship, part-time job, or service learning experience related to the major.
  • Interview someone who works in a field related to the major.
  • Think about whether you can complete your major given the amount of time and money that you plan to invest in higher education.

If these factors confirm your choice of major, celebrate that fact.  If they result in choosing a new major, celebrate that as well.  Also remember that higher education represents a safeplace to test your choice of major - and to change your mind.  As you sort through your options, help is always available from administrators, instructors, advisors, and peers.


Higher education

4. Choose again

Keep your choice of a major in perspective.  There is probably no single "correct" choice.  Your unique collection of skills is likely to provide the basis for majoring in several fields.  Odds are that you will change at least once - and that you will change careers several times during your life.  One benefit of higher education is mobility. This means gaining general skills and knowledge that can help you move into a new major or career field at any time.  Viewing a major as a one-time choice that determines your entire future can raise your stress levels.  Instead, look at choosing a major as the start of a continuing path that involves discovery, choice, and passionate action.


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