How and When to Select a College Major

The most popular major for first-year college students isn’t business management or English literature. In fact, you won’t find it in any course catalog. It’s “undecided.”

While some students enter college with a clear idea of what they want to study, a great many more do not. Even those who start out thinking they know are likely to switch majors at least once before graduation.

So if you’re undecided, don’t worry. Usually colleges don’t require a declaration of major until the end of sophomore year. However, you may find these steps useful as the process unfolds.

First Step: Self-Assessment

Self- assessment is a critical first step to academic and career success. Exploring questions such as “Which subjects and activities do I really love?” and “What are the classes where I get the best grades?” will help you see connections, recognize strengths and zero in on special skills.

There are a number of good self-assessment tools available on the web, including this ranked list from Quintessential. (Read the write-ups carefully. Some charge a fee.)

Second Step: Browse Broadly

There are hundreds of majors available. You can use a web-based major selector such as or explore academic programs on a specific school’s website.

Books on the subject include The Complete Idiot’s Guide to College Majors; Book of Majors (College Board Book of Majors); and Fishing for a Major: What You Need to Know Before You Declare. Check or your local bookstore for more.

Third Step: Use College Resources

Once freshman year has begun, you will find a host of knowledgeable people eager to jump in. The academic adviser, department chair, other faculty, the career services center, alumni, upperclassmen—all will be valuable sources of information and support.

Fourth Step: Try Just a Taste

One of the required courses freshman and sophomore typically take may spark a desire to learn more about a subject. Or you may want to sign up for a subject that has always interested you.

Encourage yourself to take a taste—before ordering a whole meal.

Majors and Careers: Not One and the Same

To ease anxiety about choosing a major, here’s something you should know.

Traditionally, a major and a career have been thought of as two sides of the same coin. However, except for professional concentrations such as teaching and nursing, that’s not true. Most undergraduate majors can lead to a surprising number of careers.

Relax—choosing a major is much more likely to open doors to possible careers than to close them.

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