Choosing a major in college requires introspection, research and planning. You’ll want to consider your interests, abilities, future employment options and earning potential, among other factors. While some students enter freshman year with a major in mind, it’s OK to take more time to make a decision. You typically have until the end of sophomore year of college to choose a major, according to the College Board (but depending on your school, the deadline may be different).
If you’re still on the fence about what to study in college, here’s our guide for how to decide on a major, including:
Here are nine basic questions to get an idea of what you might want to study:
1. What are you interested in?
2. What are you good at?
3. What’s your dream job?
4. Will you need additional schooling?
5. How easy will it be to find a job after graduation?
6. How much can you expect to earn after graduation?
7. How much student loan debt should you expect?
8. What majors are available at your college?
9. Have you started any major-specific coursework?
Your major is the field of study you’ll be focusing on throughout your college experience, so choose one that interests you. Keep in mind that your interests can change over time — just because your childhood dream was to become a teacher, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re still interested in studying education.
If you’re struggling to figure out your interests — or if you can’t narrow it down — try using the process of elimination by looking at a list of majors and crossing out ones that don’t interest you. Or, take a personality test to get a sense of which majors may be best-suited for you — more on that below. However, it’s also important to remember that not all passions lend themselves to careers.
Find a major that overlaps with your interests and abilities. If your plan is to go to medical school but you can’t pass organic chemistry, for example, it’s going to be difficult to earn your bachelor’s degree in pre-med, let alone excel in medical school. It’s OK — and good — to challenge yourself within reason, but choosing a major that fits with your talents and skills will help you set yourself up for success.
The purpose of college is ultimately to prepare for a career, so choose a major that complements your professional goals. For instance, if you want to be a museum curator, consider majoring in art history, studio arts or anthropology. If you want to be a dietitian, consider majoring in food science, nutrition or public health.
Use the College Board’s major and career search tool to browse career options and find related majors. Once you have an idea of a career you’re interested in, get some real-world experience through job shadowing or an internship. This could give you a better sense of what your future job could entail — and if it ends up being something you’re no longer interested in, move on to a different major and career plan.
About 30% of college graduates go on to earn a graduate degree, but some majors are more likely to lead to a graduate degree than others, according to a 2015 report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. For example, life and physical sciences, psychology and education majors are among the most likely students to earn graduate degrees, while communications, journalism, business and arts majors are among the least likely, according to the report.
Before choosing a major and career path that likely requires an advanced degree, make sure you’re prepared for that extra time and financial commitment. Use the The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook to see the education requirements for various jobs.
After investing tens of thousands of dollars into your college degree, you want to make sure you’re going to be able to find employment in your chosen field. The BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook also shows you the projected number of jobs and the projected growth rate for each occupation within 10 years — use that data in order to inform your decision.
Earning a bachelor’s degree increases your lifetime earnings by an average of $1 million compared to people who only earn a high school diploma, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. But your major plays a huge role in determining your actual earning potential — the difference in lifetime earnings between the highest-paying bachelor’s degree major (petroleum engineering) and the lowest-paying major (early childhood education) is $3.4 million.
You don’t necessarily need to choose the highest-paying major, but you should have a sense of the projected income for the major you do pick. If you choose a lower-paying major, aim to limit your student debt so that you’ll be able to afford your future monthly payments.
Many students have to take on college debt, but some majors tend to borrow more than others. Use the Department of Education’s College Scorecard to look up the median total debt for different degree programs at your school.
Ideally, you want a major with a high earnings-to-debt ratio, or one that allows you to earn a lot more than you owe in student loans. According to a 2019 Student Loan Hero study about student debt across college majors, STEM-related majors (science, technology, engineering and math) have the highest earnings-to-debt ratios. Majors with the lowest earnings-to-debt ratios include law, pharmacy and education — particularly because they require advanced degrees.
Not every college offers every possible major. Check your school’s website for a list of major offerings, and discuss the options with your academic advisor. Also pay attention to the cost of different majors — some schools have differential tuition, where the price of a degree varies by program of study.
If you decide you want to pursue a major that your school doesn’t offer and you’d like to explore transferring, discuss it with your academic advisor first. But in some cases, transferring might not be necessary. For instance, if you decide you want to pursue journalism but your school doesn’t offer it as a major, consider majoring in English or communications and applying for journalism internships or freelance gigs in order to gain experience.
Even if you’ve declared a major and started major-specific coursework, it’s still possible to change your major. Thirty-three percent of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs changed majors at least once, and 9% have even changed majors two or more times, according to data published by the U.S. Department of Education in December 2017.
If you’ve already completed a lot of major-specific coursework, it could be more challenging to change majors and still graduate on time, depending on how different your new major is from your original one. For instance, switching from mathematics to statistics is likely easier than switching from math to English.
Colleges offer dozens — or even hundreds — of majors. According to the 2015 report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, there are 15 main types of majors for undergraduates:
- Agriculture and natural resources: Includes majors such as general agriculture, animal sciences, forestry and food science.
- Architecture and engineering: Includes majors such as electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, as well as architecture and architectural engineering.
- Arts: Includes majors such as fine arts, commercial art and graphic design and music, as well as visual and performing arts.
- Biology and life sciences: Includes majors such as biology, environmental science, microbiology, ecology, zoology and neuroscience.
- Business: Includes majors such as business management and administration, accounting, finance and hospitality management.
- Communications and journalism: Includes journalism, communications and mass media and advertising and public relations.
- Computers, statistics and mathematics: Includes majors such as computer science, mathematics and statistics and decision science.
- Education: Includes majors such as elementary education, early childhood education and special needs education.
- Health: Includes majors such as nursing, pharmaceutical sciences, treatment therapy professions and nutrition sciences.
- Humanities and liberal arts: Includes majors such as English language and literature, history, foreign language studies and philosophy and religious studies.
- Industrial arts, consumer services and recreation: Includes majors such as family and consumer sciences and transportation science and technologies.
- Law and public policy: Includes criminal justice and fire protection, pre-law and legal studies, public administration, and public policy.
- Physical sciences: Includes majors such as chemistry, physics, geology and earth science, and atmospheric sciences and meteorology.
- Psychology and social work: Includes majors such as psychology and social work, as well as human services and community organization.
- Social sciences: Includes majors such as economics, sociology, geography, political science and government and anthropology and archeology.
Here are some additional questions focused more on the process of picking a major:
- What are the most popular college majors?
- Am I able to switch college majors once I choose?
- How many college majors can you have?
- What’s the difference between a major and minor?
Business management and administration, general business and accounting are the three most popular college majors for bachelor’s degree holders, according to the report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Yes. If you’ve already chosen a college major but want to change your mind, talk to your academic advisor. However, keep in mind that changing your major can make it more difficult to graduate on time, which could increase the cost of your degree.
Colleges often allow you to double or even triple major, and you can typically add a minor or two. However, different colleges have slightly different policies on this — check with your academic advisor to be sure.
A major is your primary field of study in college — many of your courses will be related to it. A minor is an area of study that you pursue in addition to your major. Typically, you only need to take a handful of courses in order to earn a minor.
Kat Tretina contributed to this report.
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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
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Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
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EDvestinU is a product of the nonprofit New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corporation (dba The NHHEAF Network) NMLS ID#1527348.
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Repayment: Standard or graduated repayment options available during repayment; 7, 10, or 15 year term selected by the borrower.
Cosigner Release: Cosigner release allowed if an account is in current standing, after 36 months of consecutive & on-time payments with a borrower FICO >749 for EDvestinU Private Student Loans and minimum income requirement of $30,000 with no foreclosures, repossessions, wage garnishments, unpaid tax liens, unpaid judgments or other public records having an open balance exceeding $100 during the last 7 years. The borrower must not currently be involved in bankruptcy proceeding or had any bankruptcy filings during the past 10 years and cannot have any defaults on education loans.
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UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).
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Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
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Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
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