Choosing a college major
Choosing a Major (Photo: CC BY illinoisspringfield)

At some point in your college career you will have to declare a major.

This task, typically done toward the end of your sophomore year, is probably one of the most important decisions you will make during your time at college.

Trying to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life can be a daunting task. However, don’t let that bother you when choosing a major as many graduates go on to work careers that are completely different than their major.

Still, the thought of choosing a major can be a stressful one; a decision that can create second thoughts on whether or not you are going with the right one. Follow this guide for help in choosing a college major.

Tips and Advice on Choosing a College Major

Work Backwards - Choose your Career

What career or profession do you want to work in?

The first step to take actually involves working backwards, by determining which career path you intend to follow post-graduation.

Consider many factors, including the projected job market, average starting salary, mid-career median salary (use websites like, what cities/locations typically have a market for these careers, what companies typically employ these occupations, and of course, your own personal interests.

Pick majors that would best complement and prepare you for that profession. Some are obvious, while others may not be. (For example: a student who is interested in a career in marketing may select a psychology degree to understand how and why people make decisions.)

Browse the Options

There are 100s of possible majors to choose from.

Pick up a copy of the Book of Majors and skim through it, making a list of majors you may like for further research.

A good time to do this would be during the summer before your freshman or sophomore year in college so you have the whole break to research. (Bonus Tip: Consider starting research on college majors before your senior year of high school so you can apply to colleges that are stronger in certain programs.)

After browsing, pick out a few majors you might be interested in and attend information sessions on those majors to better understand the major and what it requires. Start with a handful or so (5-6) and attend these informational sessions, then narrow it down to just a couple choices. Once you have two or three majors in mind, speak with department advisors for one-on-one guidance where you can get additional information and ask questions.

Browse the Options – Alternate method

Another way to do it is by printing out the complete list of majors offered at your university, going through and crossing out what you are not interested in. Then you can further explore the possibilities you are left with.

Speak with the Experts

  • Go to the Career Center: Career counselors are good at helping people find their career passion.
  • Talk to Advisors: Each department has advisors who are well-equipped with detailed information about the major you are considering.

Explore Majors by Taking Classes

Take a wide variety of classes your first two years of college; this is your experimental phase.

Take all kinds of classes to explore your interests and maybe you’ll come across a subject you really enjoy that you had no idea about.

Take courses that interest you and some that don't. Give your mind opportunities to be bent in directions you would not ordinarily choose. You may just find something you love. (Tip #66 in College Advice: 100+ Tips for Survival.)

Personal Interests

Consider your hobbies: whether you like to read, write, or work with numbers, there should be something out there for you. Before selecting your major, consider taking a few related classes or even doing an early internship to make sure it's actually something you want to do. (Tip #64 in College Advice: 100+ Tips for Survival.)

High Paying Degrees

Perhaps it’s just a high paying degree you are looking for? Research careers that have the highest average salary.

Check the Requirements

Some degrees may be too burdensome for your schedule and/or lifestyle and may require too much work for your liking. Many colleges offer different degree programs to help you meet the requirements needed for your intended career. The course load is often quite different with each degree program. Carefully read through the details for each major before you commit to make sure the program aligns with your career goals.

Check out the Programs Faculty

Talk with faculty and/or check out ratings of professors online and see which departments have a stronger faculty and what your school has to offer. Of course, you could always get the opinions of fellow students who are currently enrolled in the program as well. The quality of the faculty plays a big part in making the learning fun and engaging.

Career Personality/Assessment Tests

Many college counseling centers offer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Strong Interest Inventory (SII), both widely used career assessment tools that may be able to shed light on your academic interests. While it may cost you a little money, it could give you some personal insight on your strengths and weaknesses.

Browse Job Listings

Another idea is to check out job postings. Not to really look for a job, but to check out the job requirements and qualifications needed of any jobs that may catch your eye.

Do Something New and Innovative

Go past the tips on this list and come up with your own way of finding your interests. One student from Queen’s University recently completed a job shadowing project where he job shadowed 60 professions in 60 days in an effort to determine what career he wanted to go into. He came away with some great results and a lot of industry contacts in the process.

Other Tips

  • If you don't want to continue on for a master's, make sure you pick a degree where a master's isn't needed to be competitive in the workforce.
  • Don’t be afraid to change majors. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a field you hate. Change majors if your interests are no longer what they used to be. (Just don’t wait too long to make this change as it could cost you extra tuition dollars.)

Double Major

If you are a student who is interested in more than one major and don't mind taking extra classes during the regular semesters and summer, then a double major may be for you.

A double major is where you obtain a degree with two majors being acknowledged and fulfilled. You would take the classes required for each major simultaneously during your college career.

There are pros and cons of doing a double major, so take them into consideration as you go about choosing a college major.

Pros and Cons of a Double Major

Benefits of a Double Major

  • Learn More and Become More Well-Rounded: Since you are double majoring in two different subjects, you are gaining more knowledge than the average college student and can experience how the two disciplines can relate to each other.

  • Double Majoring in Related Subjects: If you double up in two similar majors and take a classes over the summer semesters, you can still graduate in four years with two majors. Majoring in related subjects is easier as you can usually fulfill courses that are needed for both majors.

  • Make Yourself More Valuable: By double majoring, you are making yourself more valuable once you graduate from college. If you decide to double major in Finance and Economics, then you will show potential employers how disciplined and innovative you are and that you can handle the extra workload. If you double major in two different subjects, such as English Literature and Math, then you are proving that you are well educated in two totally different subjects. This is especially helpful to aspiring teachers as you will be more marketable when you are applying for that first teaching job.

Disadvantages of a Double Major

  • More Work: No matter how closely related your two majors are, you will definitely have to be prepared to take on the extra workload. You will be taking more classes and possibly attending summer semester as well, unless you want to stretch your college career into five or six years.

  • May Take Longer to Graduate: Unless you plan on taking courses during your summer breaks, you will probably graduate a year or two later than the normal four years. Remember that college majors usually include four semesters worth of concentrated courses. By doubling up on your majors, you may add another year or two to your graduation date.

  • Can Cost More Money: Taking extra classes means more money per credit and of course more books to purchase. If you are receiving any form of financial aid, such as grants, loans and scholarships, you should check to see if the money will cover your extra major.

If you are considering a double major, you really need to sit down and determine if you can handle the extra course load. If you have a part-time job or other obligations, the extra classes may become an interference. You want to be able to handle the extra credits as well as receive good grades. After all, is the double major really valuable if you barely passed any of the classes? For the student who can handle a large workload and holds great time management skills, a double major is a great opportunity to better your standing upon graduation.

Changing Majors

There may come a time during your college experience where you find you are not satisfied with your college major.

Surprisingly, changing majors is not as complicated as you might think.

With a little research and guidance from your academic advisor, you may be able to change your plan of study seamlessly. There are a few things you may want to think about before changing your major.

Credit Hours Already Earned

If you want to change majors without adding extra semesters to your time at college, then you will need to do so as early in your college career as possible. This should be done preferably during your freshman or sophomore year when you are still primarily completing required courses. If you wait until your junior year or senior year, then you are almost guaranteed to add extra time to your degree than you had planned. The only way you may get around this is if you make the change to a closely-related major. The best way to see how your transcript would fare would be to discuss your plans with an academic advisor.


Before jumping the gun on changing your major, be sure that switching is something you have thought through completely and is something you are certain you want to do. It is not wise to keep changing majors, as that would not reflect well when trying to obtain a job in the future. Evaluate your reasons and options, do some career exploration and make an informed decision.

Check Out Available Jobs

Check out online job search websites and see what the job market is like for your potential new major. Be sure that changing majors would work in your favor when you are trying to obtain your first job out of college. The last thing you would want is to spend money on a degree and then not be able to obtain a job later.

Take a Class

If you are on the fence about switching majors, take one class related to your potential new major first to see if it is something you would like. Even if you do not like the class and realize it was not for you, the credits you earned for that class would most likely count as an elective toward your current degree anyway.


Every college is different, but usually a form with a signature needs to be completed and submitted to the registrar’s office to make the change official. Some colleges require a signature from your academic advisor so it's best to speak to an advisor or counselor prior to submitting the form.

Pick up a Minor Degree

If it is too late for you to switch majors without losing money and credits, you can always pick up a minor degree in your new interest. Minors are relatively easy to add to your degree and usually only require about 18-24 credits or so to complete. You could pick these extra classes up in the summer or winter breaks and still graduate on time.

Getting a Minor Degree

Getting a minor degree not only looks good on a resume, but can also help build your skills in your field of study when correctly applied to a complementing major.

Getting a minor degree can also be beneficial when you know what type of career you want to get into after graduation. In many cases, what you major in does not necessarily reflect what kind of career you will go into. But if you see yourself leaning toward a certain career, you can pair this somewhat unrelated major to a minor that correlates between the two.

A minor degree is also a solid choice for general majors that don’t necessarily have a specific focus (majors that cover a broad topic). For example, majoring in business is a pretty broad subject. When paired along with a minor, you can display to prospective employers what your interests are when it comes to business. A business degree paired with a foreign language would be good for someone looking to do international business.

Some students like to take classes outside of their course of study. Doing this allows students to hear and experience new ideas from teachers they haven’t had the chance to experience because they are part of a different department. Doing so can give you new ideas and fresh content so you can see things differently when applying your knowledge to your specific course of study. For example, a marketing major who takes classes in psychology and economics may have a better understanding of his major by seeing these new ideas taught by teachers not in the business school. Therefore the marketing major could have a better perspective of those he will be marketing to (in his/her career field) by understanding his target audience and the things that affect the choices and decisions consumers make.

Getting a minor degree obviously isn’t a requirement. It is recommended that you take a few classes outside of your major. Getting a minor degree requires only a small number of credits, so if you already have a few credits in a subject different than your major, you may be closer than you think in obtaining a minor in the subject.

Once you decide on a minor that suits you, meet with an adviser in that department to find out what exactly is required to complete the minor degree. Here you can go over possible classes that will fulfill the degree requirement and may even find courses that will satisfy both major and minor requirements.