Choosing a College Major & Minor

The college major you choose has a great impact on your career and graduate school prospects. Learn how to choose a major and minor that fit your goals and interests.

Last Updated: 05/26/2021

Meet the Expert
Victoria Turner

Founder and President of Turner Educational Advising, LLC

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Victoria Turner is the founder and president of Turner Educational Advising, LLC, an educational consulting firm specializing in college and law school admissions and professional development. She served as the Senior Manager of Pre-Law and Professional Development Programs at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, for almost a decade. She is also a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association, the Potomac & Chesapeake Association for College Admission Counseling, and the Independent Educational Consultants Association.

Agriculture or anthropology? Education or engineering? Finance or philosophy? Choosing a college major can be a tough task. While it’s not something you have to do immediately upon entering school, your major influences the classes you take, the length of time you spend in school, the students and professors you interact with, your graduate school prospects, and, ultimately, your professional career. That said, about 30% of bachelor’s degree-seekers change their majors once before graduating, with 9% of those students changing their major two or more times. While your major needs to be a good fit for your current and future goals, changing majors can sometimes—but not always—add course requirements and delay graduation.

Taking into account your abilities and talents, career interests, and desired earnings, this guide walks you through the important decisions that go into choosing the right major. Plus, you’ll learn about the value of selecting a minor, how to cover your bases if you change majors, and where to find the best information and resources for college students in your shoes. If you’re ready to make a good, informed decision about your college major and minor, read on.

How to Choose a Major

When you choose your major, you’re selecting an academic path and everything that goes with that path. What you study, the professors you work with, and other students who share your major all become significant influences on how you progress through a program and position yourself for professional work or graduate school. Of course, you want to enjoy what you study, but you also need to be strategic. Do you have a natural gift or inclination to study a particular area? What kinds of jobs or additional education can you pursue after you graduate? Here are some important things to keep in mind as you consider academic majors.

What to Consider When Choosing Your Major

1

How likely is it you can create a career from it?

One way to decide on which major to choose is the likelihood of securing gainful employment after you finish your program. Aside from the fact that you might need additional education in graduate school, will you be able to land a job in the professional job market when you finish? Will you be able to find a job where you live or will you need to relocate? Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website for projections on job growth across the nation and by state and metro location for guidance.

2

Will you maybe want to go to grad school?

Depending on the major and career path you’d like to take, graduate school might be in your future. Earning a graduate degree helps you further develop your existing skills and gain more knowledge in a specialized area of your field, plus it serves as a distinguishing credential to help you stand out in a competitive job market. If you aren’t interested in pursuing more education beyond your undergraduate program, be sure to select a major and career path that typically don’t require an advanced degree.

3

Do earnings matter to you?

There’s plenty of information out there on earning potential and salaries for working professionals across industries. BLS and PayScale, to name two, can help you do some quick research on common salary ranges by career and location. If you’re looking to make some serious money after you graduate, your best course of action is to select a degree and career path that typically comes with a big salary.

4

How interested are you in the subject?

You might not know right now if a particular academic subject is going to be a perfect fit. You should, however, have a significant level of interest in an academic area even if you don’t know everything that it entails. You’ll be spending a lot of time thinking about this subject, so an appetite for exploration and a genuine curiosity about your chosen area is important.

5

Do you have a knack for or some talent in the subject?

Maybe you’re good with computers, an excellent designer, or a standout musician. Wherever your talents lie, it’s good to have some sort of natural capacity or aptitude in your chosen area. This will likely make your undergraduate experience more enjoyable and feel a little less like you’re starting from scratch.

Strategies, Resources, & Tools

These five apps give you the chance to check out college and university majors. Some of the apps even include salary projections for graduates from specific majors and schools.

When choosing a major, sometimes it can be helpful to work backwards from a potential career that would make sense for you. These self-assessments in aptitude, values, skills, personality traits, and interests can steer you in the right direction when looking into majors.

Even if you don’t have an interest in attending CSU, this self-assessment provides good insight into which academic major might be a good fit for your personal interests. Most of the majors here are available at other colleges and universities.

This 26-question quiz features an interactive model that changes as you answer the questions. You’ll see which majors your interests and skills best align with and which academic areas might not be a good choice.

This 40-question quiz can help you narrow which topic areas and majors might work for you. The information you’ll get from the quiz is applicable at virtually any institution of higher education.

This site reiterates the importance and value of meeting with your academic advisor when choosing your major. The site includes dozens of instructional and informational videos on how to change majors, what specific areas of study are like for college students, and much more.

UM Duluth’s site will help you explore your major options in a step-by-step fashion and consider your possible career paths, interests, personality type, and academic strengths. You’ll also be able to see what UM graduates from similar majors are doing today, which serves as a valuable reference.

Changing Majors

After you choose a major and take some classes, you might find out that it’s not the best fit for you. It’s not unusual to change majors during your first few semesters of school, so don’t fret! You’ll need to be sure to follow your school’s established procedures when doing so, but professors, academic advisors, and other staff members will help you make a smooth transition into a new major that better serves your personal and academic needs.

What Happens When You Change Your Major?

1

What happens when you change your major?

The specific steps that you’ll need to complete when changing majors will depend on your program and institution. Ultimately, you will submit the necessary paperwork with help from a staff member or academic advisor and begin taking courses that count toward your new major. This switch in coursework usually takes place right at the beginning of a semester, during a school-wide “add/drop” period or at the end of a semester.

2

How far will changing your major put you behind or delay your graduation date?

This depends on how many classes you’ve taken beyond general education requirements. If you’ve only taken general education classes, it’s likely that all of the credits you’ve earned will count toward your new major. Depending on your old and new major, there might be some overlap between classes, and you could get credit for those as well. Changing majors early in your undergraduate career will probably not put you behind or delay your graduation very much, if at all. But changing majors late in the game can definitely add a semester or more to your graduation timeline.

3

How will a graduate school look at your changing majors?

Many undergraduate students change majors to find the best fit. Admissions committees for graduate programs know this and won’t hold this against you. Just because you’ve changed majors doesn’t mean you’ve taken some sort of shortcut or nontraditional path toward graduating in your new major. You’ll have met the same academic requirements as students who have been in that major from the start.

4

How much more could it cost you in fees, added tuition, etc., to change your major?

One common scenario in which you’d incur more fees and tuition costs by switching majors is if you’ve already taken (and paid tuition for) classes that won’t count toward your new major. Additionally, if switching majors requires you to enroll in coursework for any additional semesters, you can expect to pay required fees and tuition for that “extra” time and the required classes you need to graduate. Don’t forget that you’ll also be paying for living expenses during this extended period, too.

Steps to Changing Your Major

Changing your major might sound daunting, but usually there are only a few steps you’ll need to take to make it happen. You’ll also have access to staff members and advisors to help you along the way.

Step 1

Explore your possibilities

When you make the decision to change majors, you’ll need to conduct an extensive exploration of what your options are. You might already have an idea of the new direction you’d like to take, so check out which departments at your school might offer you a major that’s a better fit. For example, if you’re a sociology major but know that you want to get into computers and technology, see if your school has a department of computer science or information technology, like those located at Amherst College or Boston University. If you’re in a STEM field, at some schools that makes changing majors at little more difficult. So if that sounds like you, investigate your options as soon as you’re thinking about making a switch.

Step 2

Talk to an advisor

If you’re unsure about what to do first to successfully change your major, talking with an academic advisor at your school is the best move. Your advisor can help you decide on a new major based on your interests and course history. Additionally, they’ll ensure that you know exactly which forms to complete and other steps to take to officially change majors. At schools like the University of South Florida, meeting with an advisor is a required step in the process.

Step 3

Get proper paperwork and fill it out completely

You will be required to fill out paperwork to switch majors. Depending on your school, you might need to complete separate documents that essentially “remove” your current major from your record and complete documents to add your new major. Here’s an example of how the process works at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Step 4

Get department(s) to sign off

One of the most important documents that you’ll need to complete is one that shows your new and old departments have signed off and approved your major switch. In most cases, this document will need to be signed by the chairs of the departments.

Step 5

Confirm with your advisor that you’ve enrolled in the correct classes for your new major

When making big changes, it can be easy to lose track of some of the details. Make sure that when you enroll in new classes you confirm with your academic advisor that they are, in fact, the correct courses you need to satisfy your new major. If there’s an error, you’ll be glad you double-checked.

Declaring a Minor

A minor or a concentration can be a great way of personalizing and diversifying your studies. Not all programs require you to declare a minor, but if your program requires it or if it’s an area of interest to you, keep these considerations in mind.

Minor FAQ

Declaring a minor may seem, well, minor, but this too will really affect the courses you take and the faculty and students you meet. Check out these FAQs about minors and concentrations.

Q. What purpose does a minor serve?

A. As Colorado State University points out to its students, a minor helps you add to your studies for your major in a unique way. Your choice of a minor allows you to make a personalized connection between two areas of study and gives you an in-depth look at an area outside your major. This type of interdisciplinary education informs how you think about your primary areas of interest, how you’ll approach the job market, and what potential employers may see in you as a new hire.

Q. How should I choose a minor?

A. Similar to how education experts recommend you choose your major, you’ll want to consider minors that complement your current skill set and fit well with your major. Talk with other students in your major and academic advisors to ensure that you’re not overlooking a minor that could be a great fit for you. When you get some good leads, contact faculty members in your prospective minor areas. Introduce yourself, tell them what you’re interested in, and ask them to weigh in on the pros and cons of choosing their area for your minor.

Q. What should I consider when choosing a minor?

A. Aside from considering how a minor fits with your skills and major, keep in mind that it also should align well with your graduation plan. If choosing a new minor adds to your timeframe in school, that’s a big decision to make. If there’s a minor that allows you to stay on track for graduation while also benefiting you academically and professionally, that might be a better choice.

Q. What are some benefits of choosing a minor?

A. A good choice of minor aligns well with your major choice and stretches you in other valuable directions. For example, if you’re a STEM major, a minor such as sociology or anthropology can help you think more critically about the political, cultural, and social perspectives we encounter in the world–all of which are beneficial for many professionals working in STEM roles.

What About a Double Major?

Sometimes referred to as a secondary major, a double major allows you to pursue a single bachelor’s degree with two concentrations. In most cases, you won’t be able to have overlapping courses or credits. In this way, you’ll satisfy the requirements for both majors independently, aside from general education courses common to both.

1

Your program doesn’t offer a minor

Some schools don’t offer you the option to choose a minor. If you’re in one of those programs but want to benefit from interdisciplinary studies, a double major might make sense.

2

It might improve your chances of getting into graduate school or finding a job

Whether you plan on applying to graduate school or entering the job market upon graduation, a double major can give you a competitive edge. This shows graduate admissions committees and prospective employers that you have a wide range of academic interests and go the extra mile to improve your skills and depth of knowledge.

3

You’ll be more well-rounded

Aside from having a leg up when applying for graduate school or a job, a double major gives you more learning opportunities. With a double major, you’ll have taken more classes, completed more assignments, and interacted with more students and professors. Ultimately, this makes you a more informed and well-rounded person—always a good thing personally, professionally, and academically.

4

You can get credit for exploring your interests

A double major keeps you from wondering, “What if I’d studied something else?” or “Did I miss out on an opportunity by limiting myself?” As much as college is about planning and preparing for your future, it’s also about being a curious and hungry learner. A double major gives you breathing room to learn more about topics that interest you and can make your college experience more satisfying.

Insight from an Academic Consulting Expert

Victoria Turner

Victoria Turner is the founder and president of Turner Educational Advising, LLC, an educational consulting firm specializing in college and law school admissions and professional development. She served as the Senior Manager of Pre-Law and Professional Development Programs at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, for almost a decade. She is also a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association, the Potomac & Chesapeake Association for College Admission Counseling, and the Independent Educational Consultants Association.

Q. In your experience, what are some of the challenges that students face when they’re on the fence about choosing a major?

A. First, I think it’s very hard for people of a young age to know with certainty what they want to do with their lives. The data suggests that people will change jobs 12 times and change careers five to seven times during their lifetime. In addition, a recent study by McKinsey & Company suggests that by 2030, robots will have replaced as many as 800 million workers worldwide! That could mean that up to one-third of America’s workforce might need to learn new skills and find new work. Considering this, the decision to choose a major might seem daunting, but it needn’t be.

I like to reassure students that, in most cases, their choice of a major will not limit their future career options. Humanities majors, for example, can go to Wall Street if they jump through the appropriate hoops; their major will not bar them from entry. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, people who want to become engineers must apply to and enter an engineering curriculum (major) early, as transferring into such programs later can be time-consuming and cumbersome. In addition, if someone would like to attend medical (dental or veterinary) school, their choice of major won’t eliminate that option, but they’ll still need to fulfill their pre-med prerequisites. In those cases, I encourage students to meet with the pre-health advisor at their college as early as the first semester of their freshman year. As corny as it may sound, I always encourage students to follow their interests!

Q. What are some trusted resources that you’ve had college students use to prepare themselves to choose a major?

A. The single resource I find most valuable is the career center at a student’s college or university. I tell them, “Go early and go often!” Many career centers have both career counselors and industry advisors or experts. Career counselors help with the proverbial search before the search–the “who am I and what do I want to do with my life?” types of questions. Industry advisors, on the other hand, specialize in different fields and explain how to get jobs and start careers in those fields. They can walk students through how the choice of a particular major might facilitate that transition. Sometimes they’ll give assessments, make suggestions to intern in various sectors, and recommend reading material, all depending on a particular student’s profile. I also believe that students should attend professors’ office hours often and ask questions about majors. It is amazing what they can learn and what connections they can create!

Q. What about high school students who are trying to choose a major? What advice do you offer them?

A. For high school students who are preparing to go to college, I try to take the pressure off. As I stated earlier, it is quite difficult to have all of the answers at such a young age, and the feeling that one must have a concrete blueprint at an early age can result in fear-based decisions that have to be revised later. In addition, I remind them that one of the assets of the American higher educational system is that it usually doesn’t require one to declare a major until the second semester of sophomore year. This is precisely because the experts know that exposure to various disciplines can be critical to making informed decisions!

There are programs like YouScience (www.youscience.com) that offer various assessments, and career counselors can also provide those assessment. But perhaps the most valuable lessons are gleaned from experiential learning. For example, a summer pre-med program offered for high school students at a university proved to one of my students that she did not want to be a doctor! Another student learned through various entrepreneurial competitions that she definitely loved and wanted to enter the world of business. While they hadn’t definitively landed on an exact major, they had narrowed down certain fields that either appealed (or didn’t appeal) to them.

Q. What do you think students need to know when they’re choosing a minor concentration?

A. Again, I think students should follow their interests but also speak to career experts (again, go to the career center at your college!) about “applicability” factors. For example, if a student wants to major in international relations because he or she loves public service and the global stage, a minor in a foreign language or a specific area of the world might be prudent and valuable. If a student is interested in the AI side of business, perhaps a minor in computer science or something similar might make sense.

Q. Do you discuss the possibility of graduate school with learners early on in their undergraduate career? How much of a factor does this play in a student’s choice of major/minor?

A. I discuss the possibility of graduate school very early–and very often–with students. I in no way push the issue, but I feel strongly that students should think about the “long game” when considering their educational and career plans. Other than STEM fields, I do not think that the choice of undergraduate major limits a student’s graduate school options.

Resources

Need some more information about double majors? This guide from the University of California Davis offers essential points to consider and helpful resources if a double major might be in your future.

In this article, Cornell College’s academic advising staff weighs in with practical advice based on their experiences helping learners at their school. They emphasize keeping your options open early on but being strategic about narrowing your search as you progress through the first year or two of school.

This excerpt from Northeastern University’s course catalog offers detailed descriptions of declaring majors and minors, changing majors, double majors, second bachelor’s degrees, bachelor’s/master’s programs, and combined and independent majors. While some of the Northeastern-specific details may not apply to your school, these descriptions are handy to have in one place.

McNeese State University’s article addresses popular myths about choosing a major and offers actionable advice on how to find the best program for your academic and career needs.

This guide from the National Association for College Admission Counseling is designed for high school students planning to pursue a college education. The guide provides valuable information for young learners to consider as they approach higher education and think about which academic major will best serve them. Consider using a keyword search throughout the document to locate all of the pertinent information on choosing a major.

Walden University offers an excellent resource that explains the importance and value of minor concentrations, from diversifying your resume to supplementing your major-area courses in a unique way.