7 Things to Consider When Choosing a College Major
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Shravya Kakulamarri in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
- If You Have No Idea What to Major in
- If You Have a Major in Mind
- Does My Major Affect My Chances of Acceptance?
Choosing a major is a tough decision that involves a lot of research, self-discovery, and planning ahead. Here are seven questions that you should ask to make sure you’re choosing the right major.
If You Have No Idea What to Major in
1. What Are My Strengths and Passions?
You want your major to be something that you actually enjoy and are good at.
When choosing a major, ask yourself: Have you ever noticed yourself doing better in certain school subjects in high school over other classes or are there certain classes or activities that you’ve always gotten particularly excited about? If there are, try to find a common theme amongst all these classes that you enjoy and see if it could translate to a college major.
You can also combine interests into a major. For example, maybe you liked Chemistry in high school, but you also liked Biology. You could put those two together to pursue a Biochemistry degree in college.
Another way to choose a major is based on extracurricular interest. Perhaps you find yourself gravitating towards extracurriculars, such as debate or mock trial in high school. There’s a strong chance that you would like Legal Studies or a Political Science major.
Keep in mind that majors often have different sub-majors. Do your research to figure out what majors are available at what schools and look through the courses in that discipline to see if any of them do sound interesting. Within Engineering, there will be Material Science and Nanoengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemical, and Biomolecular Engineering. You might like Engineering, but you still have to figure out what specific sub-discipline you want to pursue.
2. What Experiences Have I Enjoyed?
The college’s goal is to determine whether you do well in a program and whether you have enough experience in the field to know that it’s something you would actually enjoy. Therefore, use your past experiences as supporting points. When deciding on a major, if you can say things like, “I will love X major because I already did Y and really enjoyed it,” then you are on the right path to choosing a major that you’ll actually thrive in.
Your choice of major should complement your academic and extracurricular profile that you have had in high school. For many schools, you will most likely be asked to write a “why this major?” essay, so it is important that you have experiences to backup your interest in that subject.
This is especially true if you’re applying to a specific college within a university, such as the School of Engineering or the School of Natural Sciences. Being able to have that strong background already in engineering classes or other STEM-based classes will help supplement your application and show that you have a strong background. These programs will also look closely at how you scored in your science-related courses and tests as well as what related extracurriculars you pursue.
3. What Are My Career Goals?
If you have a particular career goal in mind, you should do some research and figure out what type of coursework, or possibly even post bachelor’s schooling, you’ll need to pursue that field of interest.
If you want to be a doctor, for example, then medical school is definitely in your future. But, to be admitted to medical school, you don’t need to pursue a particular major; you just need to complete certain prerequisite requirements in college, such as Physics and Organic Chemistry. Many pre-med students will end up pursuing a STEM major out of convenience, but you can pursue any major that you want. Similarly, if you want to go to law school in the future, law school does not have requirements beyond the LSAT, which means you don’t need to pursue a particular major to get accepted into law school.
If You Have a Major in Mind
4. What Career Paths Do I Qualify for with My Major?
When choosing a major, it’s useful to understand what career paths that major will enable you to pursue. Perhaps, half way through your college career, you decide you don’t want to pursue medical school, but you still want to pursue Biology. You’ll need a backup career plan.
To figure out what careers your major can help you work towards, reach out to people who have pursued similar degrees. Look up a school’s alumni who have pursued that major and where they are today. In Biology, for example, people might go into policy, research, or local health.
5. Will I Enjoy the Course Requirements?
Another useful way to explore a major is to review course requirements for various majors at the schools of your choice. It’s a great way to get a glimpse into what you could potentially be learning and see which curriculum excites you the most. Look for things you feel intrinsically good at or for courses that you enjoy.
If you know that you don’t really like to write, a major that requires creative writing courses might not be the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you know you are excited when learning about topics in wealth and finance, then you could infer you would enjoy courses in Economics or Finance majors.
Reviewing course catalogs can also help you compare and contrast similar programs at different schools. Most colleges will have similar introductory classes, but their electives can be unique to each school. As a result, you might realize you like the Economics major at one particular school over another.
6. What is the ROI of My Major?
In addition to finding a major you’re passionate about, you’ll want to take into account your future salary expectations and income goals. Some majors tend to lead to higher paying jobs in career paths than other majors. A teacher who majored in Education is more likely to have a smaller salary than a Wall Street analyst who majored in Finance.
This is an even more important question for students who are taking out loans. Most loan programs require that students start paying back their loan along with interest once they graduate. If this is the case for you, you’ll need to start earning income immediately after your senior year. In this situation, it would be best to choose a major with a high rate of post-graduate employment.
7. How Competitive or Selective is My Major?
Some colleges have majors that are more competitive than general admission. Even if students are competitive enough to be admitted to the university, they might not be guaranteed admission to a particular major.
If you are interested in applying for a competitive major, make sure to check whether you’re prepared for the level of rigor for that major. Also, check the requirements to make sure you have a good chance of being admitted to that major. In many cases, competitive majors might have separate application processes, with GPA requirements, course requirements, and extra essay requirements that differ from the college’s standard application.
Take, for example, UC Berkeley’s undergrad Business major. Students that are currently enrolled at Berkeley have to go through a separate competitive application process during their second year to be considered for the Business major. They cannot be admitted to the undergraduate Business major if they apply to the program as high school seniors.
Some programs’ competitiveness can be influenced by when you apply. For example, the University of Washington’s Computer Science program is highly competitive. It has an early admission program that allows high schools to be directly admitted to this program. If you don’t get accepted into this program, you have to apply during your time as an undergrad. This actually can be more competitive, since the volume of undergraduates applying to be admitted to the Computer Science program is higher than the number of early admission high school students.
If you feel that a program’s competitiveness might be too high of a bar for you, but you still want to pursue that program, we recommend applying to this program at a college with a lower level of competitiveness.
We do not recommend applying to an easier program at the college with the intention of transferring into a more competitive program. Admissions departments are used to seeing applicants trying to apply to an easier major to sidestep a competitive one. If you put down a major that doesn’t match your profile and your background so far off, colleges will be confused by your application and might end up rejecting you for that reason. Furthermore, if you do get in, transferring into a competitive major can actually be harder than applying to the major at the beginning of the application process. Some schools might even forbid admitted students from transferring between easier and more competitive programs.
Wondering if Your Major Affects Your Chances of Acceptance?
While not all colleges take into account your intended major in the same way, it is a factor that admissions officers often consider. To better understand your chances when applying with a specific major, we recommend using our free admissions calculator. Using your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance, and give you tips on improving your profile.
You can also search for best-fit schools based on your chances, and on other factors like size, location, majors and more. This tool will make it a lot easier to create a strategy for your college application process.