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What Are College Majors?

A college major is an area of study that a student focuses on within the course of a college degree program. An enormous variety of college majors are available, in everything from agriculture to library science to zoology.

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Prospective students have a wide range of majors to choose from, so it can be helpful to take advantage of online resources and recommendations.

Overview of College Majors

A major is a term for a student's primary field of study and specialization during his or her undergraduate career. Students take courses within their major, as well as some from other subjects, to constitute a well-rounded education. Usually, a student's major is directly related to his or her career choice. For many prospective students, choosing a major is one of the most daunting tasks of the college application process due to the number of options.

Choosing a Major

If students know where they would like to attend college, they can begin choosing a major by investigating a school's offerings. There are many resources for students looking for major information:

  • Most colleges and universities feature a list of majors on their websites.
  • The Department of Higher Education websites for each state have information on majors offered at various colleges and universities.
  • The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers information concerning what major or course of study is necessary for particular careers.
  • The Princeton Review allows prospective college students to search through majors by their category of choice.

In 2017, The Princeton Review compiled a list of the top ten majors based on an evaluation of job prospects, salaries and general popularity. These include:

  • Computer Science
  • Communications
  • Government/Political Science
  • Business
  • Economics
  • English
  • Psychology
  • Nursing
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Biology

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  • Agriculture
  • Architecture
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Business
  • Communications and Journalism
  • Computer Sciences
  • Culinary Arts and Personal Services
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Legal
  • Liberal Arts and Humanities
  • Mechanic and Repair Technologies
  • Medical and Health Professions
  • Physical Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Transportation and Distribution
  • Visual and Performing Arts

Completing a Major

Students must declare a major before graduating from college. Depending on the school and program, students typically declare it during their freshman or sophomore years. Some majors require certain prerequisites (which are classes that must be taken in order to gain some background knowledge on the subject) before students can take core courses. Generally, the majority of courses must be directly related to the major, whether within or outside of the student's chosen specialization.

For example, students majoring in British literature must take core courses in that specialization, but they will also take other English courses. These electives might include:

  • Creative writing
  • American literature
  • Poetry
  • Drama

Non-Major Requirements

Students must also study areas outside of their major in order to meet general education requirements, which are necessary for graduation at many schools. An English major, for example, often needs to fulfill additional credits in:

  • Math
  • Science
  • Art
  • Languages
  • Social sciences

Honors

Some colleges and universities allow students to graduate with honors in a particular major. For this, they may need to hold a minimum GPA within major classes. They may also need to submit a thesis proposal and a body of previous work demonstrating excellence in research and writing, prior to being accepted to the honors track. Ultimately, to graduate with honors, the student usually must submit and defend a research-based thesis in a particular topic of interest within the major.

Undergraduate students can major in almost any subject, and majors require the completion of both general education requirements and electives for graduation. Honors options are also available at some schools.

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