When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

College Prep

Our counselors answered:

When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

Gail Grand
President The College Advisor Inc.

Follow your passion and a rewarding career will follow...

When you do what you love, work feels like fun! The same advice applies to picking a major. Don’t major in a subject simply because it fits an imagined career path; choose the major that truly interests you and you’ll enjoy your studies and find success. Although a small number of careers do require specific undergraduate majors (think architecture or accounting), you can gain entry into most careers through a variety of majors. English or history majors develop the strong verbal skills and research abilities that lead to successful business careers, while psychology students may pursue careers as varied as advertising, business, and education. If you follow your passion when picking a major, a successful career will follow!

Hamilton Gregg
Educational Consultant Private Practice

Students change majors all the time!...

In a world where end results (career) take priority over indecision (multitalented student) this is a typical question; one that I hear more specifically from parents. They get frantic that their child does not know what they want to “do” rather than embracing the values of learning the diversity of topics found at Liberal Arts schools. Furthermore, there is a deep misunderstanding of the advantages of what this education provides. Typically, the most popular major when applying is “undeclared” and many students end up changing their major five or six times before they graduate. In fact, most schools know a student will change their mind even if they do choose a major when applying. On college tours I often hear the tour guide say, “Yeah, I have changed my major, like, three times this year!” Amazed at this proclamation, I then remember that high school course offerings are so limited compared to innumerable possibilities available at university.

Jeannie Borin
Founder & President College Connections

Explore Various Subjects Before Selecting Your Major...

Up to 50% of entering freshmen begin college as undeclared. Many colleges have core requirements that provide opportunities for students to take courses in a variety of fields before deciding on one. Students can gain acceptance without necessarily knowing their major. Students must generally select a major by the end of their sophomore year. Students do change majors and even art students can become lawyers. It is a good idea though to major in an area that you intend on pursuing. If a student is having difficulty deciding, excellent interest inventories like Strongs and/or Myers Briggs can help reveal interests and possible directions a student may take.

Jeffrey Makris
Director of College Counseling High School of Economics and Finance in New York City

Your eventual career might not yet exist!...

Applying to a specialized institution or program certainly requires you to have a good understanding of your intended major. However, being undecided is not a detriment when applying to the majority of colleges in the U.S. You have time to explore during your first two years of college. Most majors can lead to a variety of career options; I know doctors who majored in psychology and lawyers who majored in philosophy. Remember that the workforce is constantly changing. Your college experience must provide you with a skill set which will enable you to adapt throughout the various stages of your career regardless of your initial choice of major.

Ken Huus
Dean of Admissions Sweet Briar College

Take a look, a major might just be required...

If you are applying to larger universities, you may be required to apply to a particular school within the university (School of Business, for example) based on academic interest, or you may have the option of applying to a School of Liberal Arts within the university (requiring no determination of academic major). Generally, you will need to choose a major no later than your second year of college. Depending on career interest, your choice of major may be irrelevant - the thing that is often important is getting the best education you can and doing well in your selected major. Of course, if you are interested in a particular field, it may be advantageous to select a major that leads into that career field. You can get additional help addressing these questions in your high school guidance office, or in the Career Services Office of colleges of interest (and these can be great connections to make!).

Marilyn Emerson
President Emerson Educational Consulting

Don’t Panic, You Don’t Need to Pick a Major Yet!...

Applying undecided will not hurt your chances for admission. College is different than high school. There are many more areas to explore. So, if you don’t know what you want to study, don’t panic. I am reminded of a young woman who wasn't sure what she wanted to major in. As a freshman she opted for an economics course, a subject she knew little about, because she was tired of hearing her father say “take something useful!” She graduated majoring in economics. My advice – don’t rule anything out and don’t rush into a decision. Enjoy the journey!

Marjorie Shaevitz
Admissions expert, author, speaker www.adMISSION POSSIBLE.com

Most college students change majors, one, two, or three times!...

Don’t worry; many, if not most, high school seniors don’t know in what they want to major. Truth is, except for a few fields such as Architecture and Engineering, colleges don’t usually ask students to declare a major until their junior year. Use your four years in college to explore what content, activities, and possible careers really “grab” you, taking advantage of counseling and career centers on campus to help. If you want to identify a major, base it on what high school courses and topics interest you the most, but try to stay away from oversubscribed, very popular majors.

Michael Goran
Director & Educational Consultant IvySelect College Counseling

Explore Your Major Possibilities...

A student was absolutely certain that he wanted to major in biology and be pre-med. His extracurricular activities included working with autistic children, hospital volunteerism and genetic research in a clinic. I spoke with him just weeks after college began and he was in the business school! He found the program and students much more to his liking. Students change majors frequently in college. Yet, you can “test drive” a major now through job shadowing and internships. Also, go to web sites like http://uncw.edu/STUAFF/CAREER/Majors/index.htm, to learn about majors of interest and the potential careers that may emanate from those majors.

Moira O'Riordan
College Counselor St. Ignatius High School

Study what you love and you will thrive...

The happiest people I know love their work. The happiest students I know love their classes and their schools. I know an oncologist at Sloan Kettering who majored in dance and still takes sabbaticals to dance with a troupe. I know many students who’ve switched majors because of a dynamic professor and are thriving in their careers: An engineering student who switched to English became a successful technical writer; a business student who loved welding became a successful iron-sculptor, and a Classics major who fell in love with archeology. Skills gained through extra-curricular activities and internships make job applicants stand out.

Nancy Meislahn
Dean of Admission & Financial Aid Wesleyan University

Liberal arts colleges and programs LOVE the undecided!...

PLEASE resist the pressure to pick a major to make the college process easier. Relatives and counselors will all ask: what do you want to study? Tell admission officers and write in your applications about ALL the things that interest you. We seek curious and creative students, well-prepared to explore across the curriculum. Ask the adults you respect what they studied in college… and you’ll find there are many pathways and routes to law school, teaching, business, etc. etc. Choice is the hallmark of US Higher Education—don’t limit your horizons!