What Is a Major IN College and How Do I Choose One?

College majors are available in many different fields, and there are a variety of things to think about when choosing between them.

College Major: Overview

A major defines much of the time students spend as an undergraduate. Up to half of the coursework in a bachelor's degree program is composed of core and elective courses within a student's major. The other half of the bachelor's degree coursework is usually university general education requirements in humanities and sciences, which are required of all undergraduates.

College Major Possibilities

Majors can be concentrated in almost any field of study, including math, English, physics, chemistry, psychology or American history. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the most bachelor's degrees were conferred in the following fields in 2013-2014:

  • Business
  • Health professions
  • Psychology
  • Biological and biomedical sciences
  • Education

Majors may broadly cover these fields or focus on a narrower aspect. For instance, students may have a general business major or a focused major in accounting, finance, marketing or management through the university's school of business. Coursework for each major includes survey classes covering fundamental principles of the field, as well as upper-division courses that focus on specific aspects of the field.

Choosing a Major

When choosing a major, students should decide what they would like to get out of their undergraduate studies. Many employers look for job applicants with bachelor's degrees in a narrow set of majors, so some students choose a major to move into a specific career upon graduation. For instance, students can major in finance or accounting to work in the business sector. Students majoring in journalism may plan to work for a newspaper or as a freelance writer when they leave school. It is important to note that there are some jobs that require a professional bachelor's degree in a specific field; for instance, licensed architects need a professional Bachelor of Architecture degree.

Some majors also provide especially good preparation for particular graduate study programs. For example, students who intend to go to medical school often choose to major in one of the sciences, because there is typically significant overlap between major requirements and medical school admissions requirements. Similarly, aspiring lawyers may choose majors like English or history, since law schools expect applicants to have excellent writing and communication skills.

Other students may choose a major because of an interest in academic subjects like philosophy, English literature or American studies, which don't directly apply to a non-academic career. These students may find employment that doesn't require the technical expertise of a degree in a specific field. They may also go on to pursue graduate-level studies in their field of interest in order to pursue a scholarly job in research and/or teaching.

Declaring a Major

Students may declare their major on their college application, inform the school after they've been accepted or declare a major during their undergraduate career, typically no later than the time they achieve junior standing since major coursework comprises so much of the degree coursework. Many students go into college undecided on a major and declare a major after realizing their interests and working with an advisor. Those who are undecided should use their general education classes as a chance to explore different subjects. Some schools may require students to meet certain prerequisites and/or apply to in-demand majors.

Students can choose between majors depending on their academic interests and/or future career goals. They may enter college with a major in mind or declare one after they have started taking courses.

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