Skip to main content

What’s a college major?

    A college major is the specialization you’ll pursue in college that will dictate a large chunk of the classes you’ll need to take to obtain your degree.

    Most colleges and universities in the U.S. require their students to declare a major (though some colleges allow students to design their own major), so if you’re pursuing a college degree, you’ll likely need to declare a major.

    Continue reading as we delve into what a college major is, how it’s different from a degree, and common questions students may have regarding majors and choosing one.

    College majors in a nutshell

    Think of a major as the specialization you’ll pursue while in college. When you choose a major, you’re deciding on a primary subject to specialize in during your college years — think subjects like English, engineering, history, physics, and more. This choice — required by most colleges — will likely guide the courses you take during college and may influence your career path after graduation.

    As you decide where to attend college, it’s important to look at colleges as a whole and also at the majors offered by schools (if you have some idea of what you want to major in). Some departments may be stronger at some colleges than others, which is why this can be a valuable step in the college selection process. Another reason is that some colleges may require you to apply for majors. This will largely depend on the school and the major you’re interested in.

    Choosing a major can feel like a big decision. After all, your major may impact the career or advanced degrees you decide to pursue after you graduate from college. Students typically have until their sophomore year to declare their major (although this will depend on both the school and the major). If you’re entering college soon and are unsure of what you want to major in, know that you’ll likely be able to switch your major during your first two years.

    It’s important to note that some colleges require students to take general education courses on top of the courses required by their major. Most students at schools that require this focus on required general education courses in the early part of their college career and their major requirements later in their college career, but there are other paths to doing this.

    To graduate from college, in most cases, you’ll need to complete a college’s degree requirements (which might include general courses) and your major requirements.

    Examples of college majors

    There are roughly 2,000 majors offered by U.S. colleges and universities, and most colleges have an array of college majors for students to choose from (although not every major is available at every school).

    Below are a few examples of college majors and potential courses that may be a part of the major’s requirements. If you’re interested in pursuing a specific major that might be more specialized — say fermentation science or puppet artistry — make sure to research what colleges offer the major you’re interested in before applying to schools.

    Computer science major

    Majoring in computer science may entail learning about computer hardware, software, and their applications.  Courses you may take as a part of a computer science major, depending on the college or university you attend, are:

    • Artificial intelligence
    • Machine learning
    • Programming languages
    • Robotics

    Marketing major

    A marketing major may fall within the business school of a college or university. This major can help prepare students for a marketing career. Courses a marketing major may take include:

    • Digital marketing
    • Marketing strategy
    • Sales and professional selling
    • Marketing communication

    Finance major

    Finance majors often take classes within the business school of a university. Some common courses those pursuing this major may take include:

    • Financial accounting
    • Corporate finance
    • Investments
    • Managerial finance

    English major

    Students majoring in English at a college or university will likely encounter coursework that’s a mix of reading, writing essays, and engaging in analytical discussions. Some common courses may include:

    • Creative writing
    • Literature surveys
    • Rhetoric and composition
    • Critical analysis

    Psychology major

    As a psychology major, you might explore subjects like cognitive, social, developmental, and clinical psychology. Psychology majors should expect a mix of lectures, experimental labs, and potentially fieldwork. Some classes you may complete as a part of this major include:

    • Abnormal psychology
    • Developmental psychology
    • Cognitive psychology
    • Social psychology

    Common FAQs about college majors

    Can I create my own major?

    Some colleges allow students to create a custom major if they can’t find one that will be a good fit for them. This depends on your college or university, so check with your school if this is even a possibility.

    If your school allows it, you may be required to develop a proposal that outlines the goals and plan for the custom major. Once your custom major is accepted, you’ll likely work with an academic advisor and other faculty to develop a curriculum.

    What are the highest-paying majors?

    Majors may be correlated to future salaries, but it isn’t black and white. For instance, some people complete a major and then choose a career in an unrelated field. Or someone might complete a major and choose a less lucrative job deliberately (say, pursuing a public sector job rather than a private sector job).

    All of that said, there are correlations. Because of that, it can be helpful to explore what post-college salaries look like for the majors you're interested in. Consider using this tool from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to learn more about the relationship between majors and pay.

    How do I choose a major?

    Choosing a major can be an important decision, and there are several factors to consider when making this choice. Here are some steps that can help you when choosing a major:

    • Do a self-assessment: Take the time to assess your interests, strengths, and values. Consider the subjects and activities you enjoy and find meaningful.
    • Research options: Explore the different majors offered at your college or university. Look into the course requirements and the skills and knowledge you’d gain from each major.
    • Consider your future goals: Consider what you hope to achieve after college. Think about how your choice of college major may align with your career goals and other aspirations.
    • Consider how versatile a major may or may not be: Consider how transferable the skills are for various majors. This may be particularly important if you aren’t sure what career you want to pursue after you graduate.

    What if I don’t know what major I want to pursue after researching options?

    If you’re unsure about what major you want to pursue in college even after you’ve done some research, know that you’re not alone; many students are uncertain about their path when they start college. There are a few things that you can do to help explore your options if you feel unsure:

    • Take a variety of general education courses when you start college: These courses may help you explore different subject areas to see what interests you the most.
    • Meet with a career counselor or academic advisor: These professionals can help you assess your interests and skills to explore potential majors and careers.
    • Participate in internships, volunteer work, or part-time jobs: Getting hands-on experience in different fields can help you narrow down your interests and potential career paths, which may help you decide on a major.

    Remember, it’s okay to be uncertain about your major at first. Take your time to explore, and don’t be afraid to ask for help and guidance.

    When do I need to declare a major?

    The deadline for when you need to declare a major will depend on your school. Some schools may require students to declare their major when they apply to college to be accepted into a specific department or major program. Other schools may allow students to apply as undeclared majors and then may require students to decide sometime in their sophomore year. These requirements vary from school to school, so it’s essential to understand your school’s requirements.

    Can I have more than one major?

    Pursuing a double major is something some students decide to pursue. This means students are pursuing the requirements for two majors. If they succeed, they’ll receive one diploma with both majors listed. Double majoring may require additional planning and some students who double major take longer than the traditional four years to complete their bachelor’s degree.

    Can I change my major?

    Changing your college major is most likely possible, though it’s important to check with your academic advisor about the guidelines for doing so. Changing your major when you’re past your sophomore year may mean that you need to take additional classes to meet the requirements of your new major, which could also mean that obtaining your bachelor’s degree will take more than four years.

    Final thoughts

    Choosing a college major may feel overwhelming, so it’s important to do your research, explore your interests, and reach out for any available help, including from an academic advisor, for guidance so you can choose a major that both fulfills your needs and that you’re passionate about.