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Resource CenterCollege LifeAcademicsChoosing Your Major

Tips for Choosing a College Major

It’s nice to fantasize that the central focus of college is Greek life or your intramural soccer team (and for the occasional student it is). However, the reality is that your education should probably take priority.  And, clearly, the heart of your academic experience will be your college major.  Of course, most universities offer numerous departments and disciplines and many even allow you to create your own course of study.  So, with all these options, how do you ultimately decide what you’ll pursue?

While choosing a college major might be a source of anxiety, it’s not a decision that needs to be made while you’re still in high school or even your first year of college.  But, sooner or later, you will have to declare!  So, though there’s no need to hyperventilate, it is important to take some time to consider what subjects hold appeal and in which disciplines you excel.  After all, you can’t go wrong if you’re studying something that excites you and about which you’re passionate. 

Moreover, it obviously makes sense to contemplate your professional goals and aspirations as well.  If you’re dying to become a filmmaker, then majoring in film/television or media studies seems like a logical choice.  Similarly, if you have your sights set on becoming a Wall Street tycoon, economics could be a good fit.  Additionally, if you think you’ll want to attend graduate school, you might want to consider a major that will help prepare you or fulfill your pre-requisites.  For example, many undergrads hoping to attend medical school opt to study biology or chemistry.

Of course, you will still have to pick a major even if you have absolutely no idea what kind of career you’ll want to pursue.  If you’re feeling lost and uncertain, consider talking to some upperclassmen and inquire as to how they went about choosing.  Better yet, you can also ask your advisor for help.  He/she can shed light on academic departments and what it takes to tackle the different disciplines. Further, think about potential careers that might be of interest and investigate what professionals within those industries studied.

If you’re still unsure, you can skim through different syllabi and see if the readings/assignments hold any intrigue.  If your ears perk up after reading about several poly sci classes, well perhaps that’s the major for you.  Similarly, you can try and make the most out of your general ed. requirements and use them to explore subjects that might hold appeal.

It’s also important to realize that you don’t have to stick with just one major.  Indeed, if you find yourself equally interested in two departments (or if you’re a particularly industrious student), you can double-major.  Understand this will definitely increase your course requirements and thus potentially limit the number of electives in which you’ll be able to enroll.  Nevertheless, it’s a great opportunity to study two disciplines in depth. 

Many students who decide to double-major choose two complementary subjects such as business administration and marketing.  Studying two related fields might yield deeper understanding and insight.  And they sometimes have overlapping requirements, theoretically opening up your schedule to investigate other classes.  Certainly, undergrads may also double-major in subjects that have no connection (at least superficially) such as physics and fine art.  And who knows - you might actually discover the two do complement each other in unique ways after all!

Also, it’s essential to understand that your major isn’t set in stone.  Even if you declare yourself a history major at the start of sophomore year, by the spring semester you can easily inquire about switching to political science or anthropology.  Of course, there is an informal time limit to all this academic flexibility.  As we mentioned above, each major maintains its own set of course requirements.  So, say you decide at the end of your junior year that physics is actually the major for you.  Nonetheless, up to this point, you’ve only enrolled in two or three physics classes.  Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to take the remaining required courses and still graduate within four years.  And sure, while you might not mind sticking around these hallowed halls for another year or two, it will be expensive.  Not to mention that your parents might be none too pleased.

There’s no doubt that your major will shape your college experience.  It’s an important decision and you want to choose judiciously.  However, it’s just as critical to realize that your major will not dictate your entire life.  Study something you truly care about and everything else will fall into place.

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