We know that choosing a college major can be overwhelming.
Many schools offer hundreds of choices, and it is a challenge to pick one when it feels like the rest of your adult life is riding on that choice. It is a big commitment, but it's not a life sentence: Many graduates pursue careers that aren't directly related to their college majors, or change careers after several years. That said, you'll spend a lot of time studying whatever subject you choose, and there are a lot of factors to consider before you commit.
Your major in college is your specialized area of study. Beyond general college requirements, you'll also take a group of courses in a subject of your choosing such as Chemistry, Comparative Literature, or Political Science. At some schools you can even design your own major.
The major you choose will neither predict nor guarantee your future. Many graduates find jobs that have nothing to do with what they studied in college. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average twenty-something switches jobs once every three years and the average person changes career fields two or three times in their lifetime. Have no fear that choosing a college major will lock you into a specific career for the rest of your life.
If you intend to earn a professional degree (like an MD) after college, you will probably need certain courses under your belt. But many future doctors major in non–science related fields.
Preferably before you cross the stage at graduation. Seriously, the answer varies across schools and programs. Some colleges ask you to list your expected major on their application (although "undecided" is usually an option), but don't require you to declare definitively until sophomore or junior year.
If you are interested in a major that requires a lot of classes, or classes that are limited to students in that major, then it is better to declare early. Some majors demand a strictly regimented order of courses, and if you fall behind, you may have to extend your college stay for a semester (or two or four).
You may choose to base your decision on any of these factors:
Definitely. One of the most exciting aspects of college life is that it introduces you to new subjects and fosters new passions. You might enter undergrad enjoying physics but discover a burgeoning love for political science. However, keep this mind: Every major has requisite coursework. Some require you to take introductory courses before you move into the more advanced classes. Also, some classes are offered in the fall but not in the spring, or vice–versa. If you change your major late in the game, it may take more than the traditional four years to earn a degree.
If one field of study doesn't satisfy your intellectual appetite, consider a minor. A minor is similar to a major in that it's an area of academic concentration. The only difference is that a minor does not require as many classes.
Some undergrads with a love of learning and an appetite for punishment choose to pursue two majors, often in totally different subjects. A double major provides you with an understanding of two academic fields. It allows you to become familiar with two sets of values, views and vocabularies. That said, it also requires you to fulfill two sets of requirements and take twice as many required classes. You won't have as many opportunities to experiment or take classes outside those two fields.
While a minor or a double major might make you more marketable, both professionally and for graduate study, both are time—and energy—intensive. Most students find that one major is more than enough.
Need help? Browse majors and learn more about them with our college majors search tool. Plus: Here's our list of Top 10 College Majors based on research covering job prospects, alumni salaries, and popularity.