“I don’t know what to major in at college!” Does this common student statement describe you? It’s not unusual to have trouble choosing a major or to have additional questions about it, such as, What is a college major, exactly? and Can you change your major?
Here, we’ll look at the answers to all these questions and provide 10 actionable tips on how to choose a college major.
In This Article:
- What Is a College Major?
- When Do You Choose Your Major?
- Can You Change Your Major?
- How To Choose a College Major With FOCUS
- 10 Tips on Selecting a College Major
What Is a College Major?
Every college student needs to have a major. Some may even have multiple majors and some also declare minors. A college major is the area of focus for your studies.
You can expect to take courses in other subject areas, as well. However, the bulk of your studies will typically be concentrated on your major. This might be engineering, biology or communications.
Suppose you’re having trouble choosing between two similar majors. In that case, you might consider pursuing a double major, although it’s important to note that you will earn only one degree despite pursuing two majors. Another option is to pursue a dual degree. Here, you will earn two credentials, for example, a bachelor of science and a master’s in business.1 Another option is to choose one of the fields you’re passionate about as your major and a secondary field as your minor.
A minor doesn’t confer an additional degree. However, it can complement your primary field of study. For instance, if you want to earn an education degree with the goal of becoming a teacher, you might consider minoring in Spanish so that you can connect better with students whose native tongue is not English.
When Do You Choose Your Major?
It depends. Some students know exactly what they want to major in, perhaps as early as middle school (although they might change their minds later). For others, the decision-making process isn’t finalized until they’re already in college.
Remember that each school has its own requirements. You may be required to choose a major by the end of your sophomore year, for example. Although every student and every school are a little different, you might consider using the following timeline as a rule of thumb:
- 9th grade: Begin researching different areas of study that are of interest to you by examining career opportunities within those fields.
- 10th grade: Continue your career-related research and talk to family members and other adults about their own majors and career decisions. Begin researching colleges and their degree programs.
- 11th grade: Pursue job shadowing opportunities in your fields of interest and consider completing a relevant internship. Continue researching colleges and degree programs.
- 12th grade: Pursue additional internships and, if possible, part-time job opportunities in fields of interest. Start applying to colleges during the summer before your senior year.
- Freshman year of college: By this point, some students have an idea of where their interests lie. If you’re still unsure, talk to your advisor and take classes in a couple of different fields of interest.
- Sophomore year of college: Finalize your decision if you haven’t already done so.
Can You Change Your Major?
Even after you’ve selected your major, it may still be possible to change it. However, you’ll need to do so as soon as possible. If you wait too long, you may end up taking longer to graduate because you’ll have to fulfill the degree requirements for your new program of study.
As soon as you start to think that your chosen major might not be the best field of study for you, schedule a meeting with your advisor to discuss the situation and see what your options are. You should also ask about the deadline to switch majors, as it varies from school to school.
Generally, when you wish to switch majors, the advisor or another college official will evaluate your current progress and how many credits you would have left to earn in your new program of study. This provides you with an idea of whether you might need more than four years to graduate if you do indeed switch majors.
How To Choose a College Major With FOCUS
At Grand Canyon University, we understand that selecting a major can be a significant and sometimes stressful decision. That’s why our team at the Office of Career Services is here to help you select a major that can help put you on the right path toward achieving your future career goals.
Current GCU students stressed about declaring a major or those wondering what to do with that major once they graduate are encouraged to “Focus.” Focus-2 is an online self-assessment tool available through Career Services. This interactive tool can help determine your interests, values, preferences and skills through self-discovery, reflection and career exploration. Based on your results, it can provide you with suggested career paths so you can narrow down a major and focus on college and beyond.
Focus can be used to:
- Examine career and educational goals, academic strengths, career planning status and personal development needs
- Explore detailed information on 1200+ different careers
- Narrow down your occupational and educational choices
- Search careers by occupation name or industry area
- Assess career readiness measures in the following areas:
- Career and educational goals
- Academic strengths
- Career and educational accomplishments
- Career planning status
- Personal development needs
- Assess your interests, values, skills, personality and leisure preferences utilizing the following self-assessments:
- Work interest assessment
- Personality assessment
- Skills assessment
- Values assessment
- Leisure interest assessment
10 Tips on Selecting a College Major
Without further ado, let’s dive into the top 10 tips to address the common conundrum: I don’t know what to major in at college.
1. Take Some Time to Self-Reflect
Starting college and knowing your potential interests may help you make an initial list of possible majors. For example, if you know you enjoy writing, you could look at majors like professional writing, communications and marketing.
Right now, your interests could be as broad as “science” or be a specific profession in the scientific field. For example, if you have always wanted to do something in the medical field, you could explore what types of medical work interest you. Ask yourself if you would rather be a doctor or nurse and work directly with patients, or be the person in the lab doing research and helping advance medical care in everyday life.
Being clear about your general interests before you look into potential college majors can be very helpful in narrowing down what you want to study. Write down all the things that interest you, and then start looking for majors that align with those interests. By doing this, you’ll begin to know which majors seem interesting to you and which don’t.
2. Search Online
When it comes to how to choose a college major or career path, the internet has an abundance of resources that anyone can use. Many colleges and other education-related websites offer no-cost “What should my major be?” quizzes.
The website then suggests degree programs that might be a good fit for you based off your responses. If you don’t agree with the results, don’t worry. There are many more resources online to help you find your passion.
3. Explore Your Options
After figuring out what degree programs sound the most interesting to you, start looking at the specific class offerings in those programs. For example, GCU’s website can help compare up to four different programs from any of the seven undergraduate colleges at GCU. This page also organizes degrees based on your specific interests, and it gives you suggestions based on what you choose.
If some classes interest you more than others, that can help clarify your options for picking a major. In addition, when you start college, general education (gen-ed) courses and electives can introduce a variety of subjects. Psychology, math and history are gen-ed subjects that often spark interest.
If you don’t know what path to take, use gen-ed courses or your electives to take a variety of classes in different areas to explore your options.
4. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
Make sure you’re taking advantage of your school’s resources to figure out what programs best fit you and your interests. For example, check out clubs on campus that speak to your personal values. If you can, go to a meeting to see if you might be interested in joining. Meeting likeminded people can potentially set you on a path to finding a career you enjoy.
Different programs also host events or bring in professionals in the field to speak to students, so be sure to explore all the options offered by the college. These events can help you understand what it might be like to work in that specific field, or they could provide insight into what your potential program could look like for you.
Most colleges have career centers — on campus or online — that can help you find careers, internships or volunteer opportunities while you are earning your degree. If you use these opportunities early, you may discover what kinds of careers you might want and what you don’t want, which can be just as helpful.
Another great way to explore your options is to talk to people that have or had careers in one of your areas of interest. You can find professionals on campus or in your everyday life. If you’re already in college, you can talk to your professors and college advisors. Ask them about their careers and about the connections they made pursuing those careers.
If you’re not on a college campus, ask people you’re comfortable with about their careers or if they know someone in your areas of interest. Reach out to people on the internet through sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, or use email to ask them some questions about their careers. Most professionals are happy to help eager students find their way, especially if you share a career interest with them.
6. Consider Adding a Minor or a Second Major
If you want to major in something broad to keep your career options open and you are an on-campus student, consider adding a minor. Minors can require as few as four elective credit classes, and they can complement your current major.
Minors can provide the chance to explore other fields or areas you may be curious about. The coursework is intended to help you gain additional skills you can add to your resume and complement your primary program of study. Keep in mind that online students cannot have minors.
Adding a second major is another option. This can add a lot of classes to your course load, especially if your majors are very different, but it may make you more competitive if you apply to any post-baccalaureate program.
7. Think About Post-Baccalaureate Education
If you’re considering a career that requires a post-baccalaureate degree, keep that in mind when choosing a college major. For example, if you’re considering a career as a lawyer, pre-law isn’t the only option for a major. You might consider a major like government instead. Another major may also get you where you want to go and help you explore your broader interests at the same time.
8. Consider Your Future Lifestyle Goals
For most students, college is a serious time and an economic commitment. When choosing your major, think about the kind of lifestyle you want in the future. Some important considerations are how much time you want to commit to earning your degree, how much freedom you want in your career and what salary you could earn.
Some careers, of course, make more money than others, but they may also demand more. Consider doctors. They spend many more years than average committed to their education. The time commitment is high and they often work long hours.
As you pick your major, be sure to keep all these things in mind and understand what you’re really looking for in the future.
9. Have a Backup Plan
When they pick a college major, some people do everything right and still feel they made the wrong choice, and that’s okay. Many people begin their college experience with an idea of who they are, but they soon develop interests that they never expected to have. Many students change their major in the first year or two at college, so it would not be unusual for you to do the same.
Before you choose your major, make a list of all the possibilities at the college(s) you hope to attend. Keep the list, even after you pick a major. Then, if you think you want to choose a different major, your list of options is already started.
10. Consider Furthering Your Education
If you are looking to switch careers or maybe advance your education in the same field, a master program might be the right option for you. GCU offers a range of different graduate degrees, from education and nursing to business and engineering.
While you’re taking gen-ed classes or courses for your major, pay attention to the skill sets each class is trying to teach you. It could be a soft skill like communication, critical thinking or how to write a research paper, or a hard skill in your chosen discipline — each one is important. Even if you end up doing something that doesn’t relate to your major, the skills you were taught along the way may continue to benefit you.
GCU offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Staff and faculty are eager to work with you to help you meet your career goals and find the right college major. Fill out the form on this page to find the resources you need as a future or current student at GCU.
1 Ngo, C. (2023). Dual degree vs. double major: what’s the difference? Best Colleges. Retrieved Dec. 14, 2023.
Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on Dec. 15, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.