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Selecting a College Major

Updated on October 7, 2017

Welcome guest author, Susan D. Bates.

Many students are undecided about what academic program to pursue as their major (primary program of study). This can be because they do not know what career path they wish to pursue. However, even students who have chosen a specific career path can be undecided about what to academic field to study. While some careers, such as nursing, will require a very specific course of study to be completed, many careers do not have a prescribed path.

Students who wish to explore a variety of academic programs before declaring a major can use the steps below as a guide to help them make a decision. These steps should be modified as needed to fit their specific situation. *

Step 1: Make a List

Before you can decide what academic program you wish to pursue, you need to know your options. Therefore, you need to have a list of all academic programs offered at your college or university. Colleges typically have lists of potential majors posted on their website, written in the course catalog, or available at the academic advising office.

Step 2: Cross Out The Obvious

When you look at your list, there probably are several academic programs that you have absolutely no interest studying. Cross out all of the programs you are certain that do not wish to pursue.

Step 3: Be Introspective

To decide on a major, you will need a clear understanding of yourself. Spend some time analyzing your interests, goals, and priorities.

Consider taking an interest inventory (such as the Major/Minor Finder, Strong Interest Inventory, Life Values Inventory, or the Career Key) to help you begin reflecting on your interests and values. Check with the academic advising office or career center at your school to discover what inventories are available. Discuss your results with your academic advisor or a career counselor.

Cross out any additional academic programs that you have eliminated from consideration.

Step 4: Start Your Research

Review the listings in your college catalog for each of the academic programs you are considering. Read the requirements, course descriptions, and any other information provided on those programs.

Visit the Web page for of the academic departments that you are considering. Try to learn as much information as you can about the programs to help you decide which one might be right for you.

Search online for information about the academic programs to learn more information about the academic field. Be careful to only trust information from reputable sources.

Cross out additional academic programs that you have eliminated from consideration.

Step 5: Narrow Down Your List

Now that you have eliminated several academic programs that you are not interested in, it is time to start thinking about ones you are most interested in. At this point, there are probably several programs that seem particularly appealing to you. Mark those programs. It is now time to focus on them.

Step 6: Talk to Professors

Make an appointment to meet a professor in each of the academic areas that you are considering. Ask the professors any questions you have about their programs.

Cross off the name any academic programs you are no longer considering.

Step 7: Do a Deep Dive

Now that you have determined the academic programs you are most interested in studying, you will need to do more comprehensive research in each of those areas. Do a deep dive into the information. In addition to Internet searches, you can research academic programs by reading relevant books, conducting informational interviews with professionals in related fields, and reading postings for jobs openings in the field. If you need suggestions for where to look for information, talk to your academic advisor or a career counselor.

Cross off the name any academic programs you are no longer considering.

Step 8: Make your Decision

At this point you may be left with more than one academic program that you are still considering. There is no magic answer to help you decide which one will be best for you. It may come down to which one you feel most drawn to. If you are drawn to more than one major, you can always consider pursuing multiple majors.


College students today have a wide variety of academic options available to them. This is a wonderful opportunity. However, the number of choices available can feel overwhelming. Following this step-by-step plan can make the decision process easier.

*Disclaimer: This guide was created for students attending college in the United States. Individuals not yet in college or who attend school outside the United States may still find some of the provided information useful.

Susan D. Bates

My professional experience includes work as an academic advisor, a career advisor, a school counselor, and a college instructor. I have a master’s degree in student affairs counseling in higher education and a bachelor’s degree is in advertising with minors in English and psychology.

I love to write. Because I have a passion for education and career development, the majority of my writings have focused on education, learning, and career planning. I plan to continue exploring these topics as well as others through my writing.

Among other places, my writings have been published in The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal and on the website BellaOnline.

I can be found on Twitter @susan_bates.


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