A major is a specific subject area that students specialize in. Typically, between one-third and one-half of the courses you’ll take in college will be in your major or related to it. At some colleges, you can even:
- Major in two fields.
- Have a major and a minor (a specialization that requires fewer courses than a major).
- Create your own major.
When to Choose a Major
At most four-year colleges, and in the case of many majors, you won’t have to pick a major until the end of your sophomore year. This gives you plenty of time to check out various subjects and see which ones interest you. Some majors — like areas of engineering — are exceptions to this rule. You have to commit to these fields of study early so you have time to take all the required courses. If you’re earning a two-year degree, you’ll probably select a major at the start because the program is much shorter. Most students switch their major during college.
How to Choose a Major
Take courses in areas that appeal to you, and then think about which subject truly motivates you. Stephanie Balmer, dean of admissions at Dickinson College, suggests you take “classes in which you’re going to be confident, but at the same time, take some risks.” She notes that a class you never planned to take could end up helping you choose your major.
You Can Change Your Mind
If you’re not sure about your college major while you’re in high school, don’t worry. Most students switch their major during college. Even students who think they are sure about what they want to major in often change their mind. Shawna, a college sophomore, began college as a physics major but switched to electrical engineering. During her first semester, she discovered that college physics “was all the things about my physics class in high school that I didn’t like. And my engineering class was all the stuff I actually did like.”
Majors and Graduate School
Some colleges offer advising programs — such as premed or prelaw — to students who plan on attending medical school, law school or graduate school. These programs are not the same as majors; you still need to pick a major. College students who are planning to continue their education in professional or graduate programs often choose a major related to their future field. For example, undergraduates in premed programs often major in biology or chemistry. They don’t have to, though — as long as students fulfill the course requirements of the graduate program they want to enter, they can major in any subject they like.
Majors and Professions
If you specialize in something like nursing, accounting or engineering, you’re learning a specific trade. Many majors, however, prepare you to enter a range of careers once you graduate. For many students, picking a college major is not the same as choosing a job. It will be up to you to pick a career path you like. For example, a degree in English literature might lead you to a job in publishing, teaching, advertising, public relations or law, among other fields.
Remember, you’re not alone when choosing a major. Ask academic and peer advisers for help.
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