What Is a College Major? All About Your Options and How to Select One

College major curriculum

What Is a College Major? All About Your Options and How to Select One

Published on September 21, 2023

College major curriculum

In your journey to a college degree, selecting a major is a pivotal step. It not only shapes your academic path but potentially influences your future career. This guide will help you understand what a major in college entails, popular choices, requirements, and how to select one that aligns with your goals and interests.

What Is a Major in College?

 A college major is a concentrated area of study that forms the crux of your undergraduate curriculum. Your major helps to shape academic trajectory and influences your prospective career path. It comprises a series of interrelated courses designed to foster in-depth knowledge and proficiency in a particular area. 

The major you choose acts as a lens through which you’ll explore complex topics, theories, and practical applications in your chosen field. Its importance cannot be understated as it not only cultivates specific skills and expertise but also paves the way for promising career prospects post-graduation.

Beyond just academics, your major facilitates personal growth by nurturing critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, all of which are transferable to various career paths. Moreover, it offers a platform to foster networking opportunities with peers and professionals in the same field, potentially opening doors to future career opportunities.

When to Choose a Major in College

You should choose a college major after fully assessing your interests and career goals. While many students enter college with a declared major, it’s common to start undeclared. In fact, up to 50% of incoming freshmen are undeclared. Also, about 75% change their major at least once before graduation. Therefore, it pays to fully explore.

This exploration phase is not only about sampling different courses but also about fostering a rich understanding of where their true interests lie. This generally culminates in a more concrete decision by the time they approach the end of their sophomore year.

Making a good decision early enough enables students to select courses that directly contribute to their chosen field. As a result, they can map out their studies more effectively, prioritizing subjects vital to their major. 

Still, a student should be willing to adjust and not stick rigidly with something that doesn’t work for them. It’s essential for students to retain the freedom to change their major, should they discover new interests or career paths as they progress. This leads to a more fruitful college experience and personal development – and greatly influences their career path.

Understanding College Major Requirements

University departments specify each major’s required courses that are defined by the number of units or credits required in each subject area. This includes prerequisites, core courses, electives, and at times, a senior project or thesis.

For example, a psychology major might require a certain number of semester hours of psychology courses and another number of hours in elective courses.

Moreover, certain advanced psychology courses will have prerequisite courses that students must take and pass prior to enrolling.

Impacted Majors

Once a student has chosen or is considering a major, they should check whether that major and program is impacted at any schools they might be researching.

When a program or major consistently receives more eligible applicants than it can accommodate, then the campus will ask for the program or major to be called “impacted.”

This can mean that the campus might require higher standards than usual when admitting students. Students in these programs can also expect to not always be able to register for the classes they need in a timely manner, which can also affect length of stay at a school, and ultimately, graduating in four years.

Impacted Majors

Once a student has chosen or is considering a major, they should check whether that major and program is impacted at any schools they might be researching.

When a program or major consistently receives more eligible applicants than it can accommodate, then the campus will ask for the program or major to be called “impacted.”

This can mean that the campus might require higher standards than usual when admitting students. Students in these programs can also expect to not always be able to register for the classes they need in a timely manner, which can also affect length of stay at a school, and ultimately, graduating in four years.

Popular Majors in College

Students have a diverse array of options for college majors. The choice often aligns with individual interests, strengths, and career prospects. Here, we have compiled a list of 20 of the most popular majors that students typically gravitate toward.

1. Business Administration

A comprehensive field that covers various aspects of business management, including marketing, finance, and human resources.

2. Psychology

An insightful major that delves deep into human behavior, mental processes, and social interactions.

3. Nursing

A critical healthcare sector major that prepares students to work proficiently in various medical settings.

4. Computer Science

A technology-centric major focusing on programming, data science, and software development.

5. Biology

A major that explores the complex world of living organisms, from cellular processes to ecosystem dynamics.

6. Engineering

This encompasses several disciplines such as civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering, offering a variety of career paths.

7. Education

Fosters the development of future educators, focusing on teaching methodologies, curriculum development, and educational psychology.

8. Communications

A versatile field that hones skills in media studies, journalism, and public relations.

9. Finance

Centers on the management of financial resources, investments, and economic analysis.

10. Political Science

Encourages a deep understanding of governmental structures, political theories, and international relations.

11. Sociology

Studies societal behaviors and patterns, focusing on social relationships and institutions.

12. Environmental Science

Explores the interactions between the biological, chemical, and physical components of the environment.

13. Mathematics

Develops expertise in a variety of mathematical theories, applications, and computational skills.

14. Art and Design

A creative field focusing on visual arts, graphic design, and art history.

15. Economics

Studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, and analyzes economic trends and policies.

16. History

Engages students in the exploration of historical events, trends, and significant personalities throughout the ages.

17. Philosophy

Encourages critical thinking through the study of philosophical theories, ethics, and human existence.

18. Marketing

Focuses on the strategies involved in promoting and selling products or services.

19. Chemistry

Delves into the study of matter, its properties, composition, and reactions.

20. Anthropology

Explores human societies and cultures, analyzing human development from prehistoric times to the present.

Considering the vast range of options available, selecting a major that aligns with your interests and career aspirations can be a fulfilling venture. Remember, the best major for you is one that not only promises a good career trajectory but also resonates with your personal passion and academic strengths.

College Majors, Minors, and Double Majors

At first glance, picking up a college minor or second major might seem like more work. While the course load may be more intensive, it can increase a student’s marketability and make them more attractive to potential employers.

Adding another skill to their repertoire can also allow them to pursue multiple interests if they aren’t yet fixed on a certain career.

What Is a College Minor?

A minor is a secondary area of concentration. It can complement or enhance a student’s major, or it can be totally different from it.

A minor is not required for all degrees and does not yield a degree in and of itself, although some schools and departments require at least one minor to graduate.

While a major typically requires around 40-60 semester credit hours of subject-specific courses to complete, a minor is generally limited to only 15-18.

Students can choose to undertake a minor because they are attracted to another field of study but do not want to take on another major. As minors require fewer credits, some students even choose to attain multiple minors.

Students may also choose another area of concentration instead of taking random electives or courses to attain credits toward their degree.

Most students won’t add any additional hours to their degree plan if they choose to pick up a minor, as they can use the elective hours required by their university to work towards their minor.

What Is a Double Major?

Choosing an additional major means graduating with one degree in the two fields of study.  grees. Students who choose to double major will need to satisfy all the requirements for both. An example would be a B.A. in accounting and political science.

It’s important to note how this differs from a dual degree, in which students receive two credentials in distinct fields. For example, someone might simultaneously earn a B.S. in physics and a B.S. in statistics.

Students may choose a second major with similar degree requirements to their first one, and so some or many of the courses crossover and count toward both majors.

Common college double major combinations include education and psychology, economics and business, or engineering and mathematics. However, choosing two majors with completely different requirements (such as chemistry and criminal justice, for example), will be more challenging.

Double majoring is a consequential decision, and students who plan on double majoring should make their decision early on so they can map out how to meet all the requirements.

Although double majoring doesn’t in and of itself increase the total amount of required hours for a bachelor’s degree, it is common for students who double major to take extra time to meet all the requirements.

A double major will decrease the flexibility of their course schedule, and it will make it even more important for them to pass all of their classes so they can complete the required courses.

There are many advantages to getting a double major as well. The extra major can expand the opportunities they are offered in the job market, and give graduates a backup plan if they want to change career paths.

Obtaining a double major will also prove to employers that candidates have strong time management skills and are adaptable to challenging situations.

Undergraduate vs. Graduate Majors

There is quite a difference between an undergraduate and graduate field of study. The biggest difference is that undergraduate major curriculum involves courses in a wide array of subjects, while a graduate program does not.

Additionally, an undergraduate major mostly entails coursework, while a graduate major usually requires a great deal of research.

Keep in mind that graduate students can also be affected by impacted majors.

How College Majors Prepare Students for Jobs

Pursuing a major shows a number of things such as perseverance, dedication, and aptitude to master an area of study that appeals to future employers. Students who have their eyes on a certain career will want a major that is related to their dream job.

Some disciplines on the college majors list are vocation-specific (such as accounting, engineering, or nursing), and students will likely continue their education after they graduate through further studies or career opportunities in their field.

>> Related: Which Majors Lead to the Highest and Lowest Salaries?

Other majors provide graduates with a springboard for more specialized training once they graduate, which may or may not be in the career field they pursue.

In these cases, it is up to individuals to demonstrate their ability to employers, and show how their college field of study relates to a job opportunity.

For instance, students who undertake majors like philosophy, sociology, and history often go onto career paths that diverge from their subject areas.

How to Choose Your College Major

Selecting a college major is an essential step in defining your academic and professional trajectory. It requires a deep consideration of your interests, skills, and the potential career paths that align with your chosen field of study. To make an informed decision, follow these strategic steps:

Step 1: Self-Assessment

Before diving into the ocean of choices, take a step back to evaluate your interests, strengths, and passions. You might consider utilizing tools like career assessment tests to gain insights into fields that align with your personality and skills.

Step 2: Research

Investigate the various majors available at your college or university. Learn about the coursework, future prospects, and industry demand for professionals in those fields. You can also consult academic advisors, faculty members, or professionals in the industry for guidance.

Step 3: Career Prospects

Consider the potential career paths that each major can offer. Look into the job market trends, expected salaries, and growth opportunities in different sectors. It’s important to align your major with your long-term career goals and financial expectations.

Step 4: Course Content

Delve into the specifics of the course content for the majors you are considering. Look at the subjects offered, the learning outcomes, and how they align with your academic preferences and aspirations.

Step 5: Practical Experience

Gather hands-on experience through internships, part-time jobs, or volunteer work in fields you are considering. Practical exposure can provide a clearer picture of what to expect and help you make a well-informed decision.

Step 6: Flexibility

Understand that choosing a major is not a life-binding contract. Be open to the possibility of changing your major if you find that your initial choice doesn’t suit you as you progress in your studies.

Step 7: Seek Guidance

Don’t hesitate to seek guidance from counselors, professors, and industry professionals. Their advice can be invaluable in helping you navigate your choice of major and plan your career path effectively.

Step 8: Decision Time

After conducting thorough research and self-assessment, make your decision with confidence. Remember, the goal is to choose a major that resonates with your personal and professional aspirations, paving the way for a fulfilling and successful career.

Choosing a college major is a significant step in your academic journey. By following these steps and taking a thoughtful approach, you can select a major that aligns well with your skills, interests, and career goals, setting the stage for a successful and fulfilling future.

Use R2C Insights to Explore College Majors

Road2College offers a college search and comparison tool called R2C Insights. You can get personalized college recommendations and compare colleges using multiple data points, such as which majors they offer, cost of attendance, admission rates, and much more. Try it for free.

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