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What is a College Major?

Deep diving into the world of higher education can be overwhelming. With so many fields of study to pick from, having to choose only one may feel impossible. Before making your decision, it's important to take a step back and look over exactly what you're deciding on. The short answer: a college major is a student's chosen field of study that determines the coursework a student must complete to attain a college degree. Often, graduates base their careers around their college majors, so your field of study can be an important decision.

What is a college major?

  1. Definition of a college major
  2. Definition of a college minor
  3. Popular college majors
  4. What to major in during college
  5. When to declare a college major
  6. Does a college major decide my profession?

Definition of a college major

Simply put, a college major is a student’s chosen area of study to focus on in college. This chosen area of study will be what your college degree is geared towards, showing that you have specialized in that field. Each college major has a certain framework of courses that must be completed during your undergraduate studies in order to attain your degree.

Majors are usually under a larger category called an academic discipline. While all academic disciplines are branches of knowledge, majors are branches of these academic disciplines. The discipline your major falls under is the one your degree specializes in. Most institutions will have different colleges dedicated to each discipline where the department heads for the corresponding majors will be based.

Some of the main departments of academic disciplines seen in colleges are:

  • Social Sciences & History
  • Biological & Natural Sciences
  • Business
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Liberal Arts & Humanities
  • Performing Arts
  • Healthcare & Related Sciences
  • Communications
  • Computer Science & Mathematics

For example, a biology major would be under Natural Sciences, while a political science major would be under the Social Sciences discipline. Similarly, nursing is a branch of Healthcare Sciences, while majoring in accounting and finance falls under Business.

Definition of a college minor

Often, students choose to pursue a minor to complement their college major. College minors are also an opportunity for college students to try other fields of study outside of their major. A college minor is a secondary area of study to your primary field of study when pursuing a college degree.

College minors require fewer courses than college majors to complete but some required courses for a major can also be put towards your minor. Some additional courses may be needed for a college minor that may not be required for your major, especially if your minor is unrelated to your main field of study. Of course, more courses mean more coursework and more tuition to pay, which is why applying for scholarships and financial aid is important to help you fully invest in your academic interests.

Researching what college majors most students are studying can help you choose a major that's right for you. Looking at what other students in your graduating class are majoring in helps to predict your future job prospects and can give you a better sense of your options. The more students there are studying the same major as you, the larger the pool of job candidates and the fewer potential job opportunities there would be left for you. However, seeing which majors are popular today can also show which jobs and careers are the highest in demand within the workforce.

Check out our updated list of the most popular college majors by graduation year.

If you choose to declare one of these majors, Bold.org has many scholarship opportunities that are major-specific, including scholarships for nursing majors (one of the top majors in the country), education majors, STEM majors, and many more.

What to major in during college

When choosing what major to pursue in college, there are many things to consider. First, consider your own academic and personal interests, including your values, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. If you have a specific career in mind you plan to follow, consider choosing a major where you can develop the job skills you need.

Also, consider whether your future career requires specialized training in a particular field. Most majors only require an undergraduate education, meaning earning your bachelor's degree is often enough to be competitive in the field.

However, there are some programs that require further education. Depending on your own major, you may have to also consider attending graduate school, law school, or medical school after university. Since grad school isn't a fit for everyone, it's important to keep your long-term goals in mind when choosing what to major in during college.

There are other routes available if you do not yet have a clear path in mind. Students that are still exploring their career path options and looking for more flexible structures can pursue broader degrees in general studies or can pursue majors that can be useful in many fields, such as business or computer science.

Meanwhile, more detailed and in-depth programs allow undergraduates to have more specialization in their degrees.

Double-majoring

With so many academic disciplines to choose from, choosing only one can feel limiting for those with a real passion and desire for knowledge. The truth is, you don't have to choose only one. Exactly as the title suggests: a double major means a student pursues a degree for two different disciplinary departments separately as opposed to the traditional single major program.

For instance, you may want to pursue two different paths, such as one in the arts and the other in STEM. A double major can allow you to study in both of these fields at the same time.

While a college minor would be secondary to the major it complements, the double major route varies in that both majors are equally engaging and require about the same amount of coursework and comprehension. Of course, this means additional course requirements and often a heavier workload, but double-majoring can give you more flexibility when entering the job pool due to your multiple fields of specialization.

Pursuing an interdisciplinary major

An interdisciplinary major is the combination of two or more academic disciplines and studying how these areas of study intersect. This route allows undergraduates to design their own major and gives more variety to what they will learn.

Although both involve the study of two or more fields, an interdisciplinary major differs from a double major in that students will gain a deeper understanding of how these areas of study are connected in the real world. However, both routes will still result in graduating with only one degree.

When to declare a college major

As an incoming freshman, your student records may show you proposed an "interest" in a major, or you went into university as an "undeclared" or "undecided" major (simply meaning you're taking prerequisite courses but haven't chosen a specific major yet).

However, most four-year colleges don't expect students to declare a major until well into their sophomore year of college. This allows students to finish most of the required general education courses in their first two years and focus more on their major requirements in their junior and senior years of college.

Some institution programs have prerequisites and deadlines by which you must apply for and declare your major. Contact your academic advisors about declaring your major, and talk to your department heads about program information and what the next steps are in pursuing your major at your specific university.

Frequently asked questions about college majors

Can you change your college major?

Even after you've decided on your academic major, it is still possible to change it later on in your academic journey if you ever have any doubts. Maybe you realized your original field of study wasn't meant for you, or you realized you have more of an interest in a different academic discipline now. Most students with a broader major may choose to switch to a more particular field of study.

About 30% of undergraduates have changed majors. Another 1 in 10 students have changed majors more than once. While college majors may set your path for college success, they aren't necessarily set in stone either.

However, if you do decide to change your college major, keep in mind that many of the courses you have already completed may no longer count towards your new degree program. Be sure to check with your academic advisor about which courses can transfer over and which courses are now required that you have yet to take. Depending on how far into your education you are when you change your major, you may have to take an extra semester or two of classes to fit in all of the required courses for your new major. Make sure to consider these possibilities when considering a change in major.

Does a college major decide my profession?

As mentioned before, a college major may set you up for college success but it isn't necessarily set in stone. This concept applies to a college graduate as well. While a college degree can kickstart and set you up for success in a particular job industry, it doesn't really decide your profession - you do.

Many students find themselves in a career unrelated to their college degree and chosen major. Graduates with a degree for a specific career may choose to change careers after joining the workforce. Some graduates even return to college to try and explore a different discipline to pursue a different bachelor's degree.

Employers will tend to focus more on experience over education when hiring. While education is important, job skills and work experience are key to job opportunities. There are some exceptions where your major carries more weight in the real world, especially if your degree involved specialized training or grad school. However, plenty of job opportunities are open to all applicants with college degrees, regardless of their majors.

Ultimately, your degree can be helpful when it comes to pursuing a certain field, but it doesn't determine the path of your professional career. You decide your own profession in the long run.