Choosing a Major? 9 Things to Consider

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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:

How to choose a major: 9 questions to help you decide
Types of majors
FAQs on college majors

How to choose a major: 9 questions to help you decide

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?

1. What are you interested in?

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.

2. What are you good at?

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.

3. What’s your dream job?

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.

4. Will you need additional schooling?

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.

5. How easy will it be to find a job after graduation?

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.

6. How much can you expect to earn after graduation?

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.

7. How much student loan debt should you expect?

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.

8. What majors are available at your college?

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.

9. Have you started any major-specific coursework?

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.

Types of majors

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.

FAQs on college majors

Here are some additional questions focused more on the process of picking a major:

What are the most popular college majors?

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.

Am I able to switch college majors once I choose?

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.

How many college majors can you have?

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.

What’s the difference between a major and minor?

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.

CollegeAve Disclosures

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.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
 
This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


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3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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.


4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
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    Available Terms
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    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% 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)..


6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

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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.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


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Discover Disclosures

  1. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  2. Get a cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan when you earn at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) in any academic period covered by the loan. Limitations Apply. Visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for terms and conditions.
  3. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate, graduate, health professions, law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of April 1, 2021. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Your APR will be determined after you apply. Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates.
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Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.