What Is a Major in College?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Pursuing your interests and turning them into a potential career is an exciting part about college. Start by learning how to choose your major.

[Featured image] A bachelor's degree student at a desk with a laptop computer and an open book.

When considering earning a bachelor's degree, you'll want to think about what you want to study. A major is the field of study you choose to pursue when completing your general education requirements in college. Examples of common majors include business administration, computer science, and psychology.

Learning more about college majors can help make the decision process easier. This article covers when and why to declare a major, along with examples of popular college majors and corresponding coursework.

What is a college major?

A major in college or university is the specific field of study that you choose as your specialization. Every student who enrolls in college needs to choose a major. Your major determines which types of courses you'll take, in addition to your core requirements, which may vary depending on your college.

In each school, there are departments, like business or science. Within those departments, there are majors that you can choose from. Within business, you might choose from finance, marketing, and sales. Within science, you might choose from biology, chemistry, or physics. And so on.

Your major determines the type of career you might choose to pursue after college. But if you're unsure about what major to choose, don't fret. You'll have time to switch throughout your first year. Plus, many people end up in careers that are not directly connected to their choice of major.

Examples of college majors you might choose

If you're undecided about which field you want to study, here are several examples of popular college majors. In addition, you'll find the types of courses you would take and different career options available.


There are many career paths you can pursue as a business major, including a marketing executive, accountant, business owner, or financial analyst. Courses you might take along the way include:

  • Accounting

  • Business management

  • Economics

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Finance

  • Human resources

  • Marketing 

  • Sales

Read more: 10 In-Demand Jobs You Can Get with a Business Degree


With a major in communications, you'll have a variety of career choices. You might consider a job in advertising, media, human resources, government, or public relations. Courses you might take in communications include:

  • Public speaking

  • Social media and advertising

  • Political communication

  • Journalism

Read more: What Can You Do with a Communication Degree: 10 Career Paths

Computer science

When studying computer science, you'll learn about computer hardware and software, as well as their applications. You might become a computer programmer, web developer, software engineer, or systems analyst. Specific areas of study in computer science can include:

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Cryptography

  • Gaming technology

  • Machine learning

  • Programming languages

  • Robotics

Learn more: What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?

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As an education major, you'll learn how to manage a classroom and how to design curricula, which are the lessons and academic content teachers provide to their students. Depending on your interests, you can become a preschool teacher, elementary teacher, or high school teacher, or you can specialize in a particular field like art, music, or special education. When studying education, you might take courses like:

  • Child psychology and development

  • Behavior management

  • Education theory

  • Childhood assessment

  • Curriculum development


When majoring in psychology, you'll study the human mind and human behavior. This field crosses the line between social and natural sciences, and classes you might take include experimental psychology, cognition, and statistics. With an undergrad degree in psychology, you can pursue various careers in areas like:

  • Developmental psychology

  • Clinical psychology

  • Cognitive psychology

  • Statistics and research methods

  • Counseling

Read more: What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?

When should you declare your major?

Some students know what they want to major in before college, while others need extra time to decide. Many colleges ask prospective students to list a major on their college application, but you can usually change this once you enroll. Typically, most students have to declare a major by the end of the second (sophomore) year. That's when people complete general education requirements and begin major coursework to dig into your chosen subject.

It’s common for students to change their major during their time in school. Three-quarters of American college students start as undecided or change their major at least once [1]. As a result, waiting until the beginning of your sophomore or junior year can be a good idea because you'll have more time to take an array of classes and see what most interests you.

However, it’s important to check the class requirements for fields that interest you before declaring your major. If a degree program requires that you take classes in a particular order, it may benefit you to declare your major in your freshman year. 


Tips for choosing a major

Many factors go into choosing a field of study in college. For help making this important decision, consider these tips:

  • Explore your values and interests: What are some hobbies that you really enjoyed, now or as a child? Are you interested in working in an international setting? Do you enjoy conducting science experiments? Or telling stories through video or photos?

  • Consider strengths you might have: Are you a problem solver? A good public speaker? Are you an empathetic person?

  • Think about what you want to be doing in five or ten years: Medical careers like becoming a doctor or psychologist require much more planning and education than others, like business or engineering. What do you envision for your future?

Learn more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Consider

How to satisfy major requirements

Before you choose a major, it's important to determine if there are any prerequisites required. For instance, some majors require taking specific high school classes or intro-level college courses. Other majors call for a minimum high school or college GPA.

To earn a bachelor's degree, you'll be required to take 120 to 128 college credits. Around half of these are general education courses like algebra, English composition, and a foreign language. Your major coursework will comprise another one-third to one-half of the credits you earn. The remainder of the credits will be elective courses. Several factors can influence your choice of electives, including personal interest, professional goals, class size, and options for online instruction. 

Benefits of declaring a major

Declaring a major is an important decision that you should make carefully. Here are some benefits of declaring a major: 

  • Declaring a major is the first step toward getting a bachelor's degree

  • Having a plan for your education helps reduce stress in colle

  • Enrolling in classes specific to your major saves you time and money. 

  • The earlier you declare your major, the more time you'll have to get to know your academic advisors

  • Declaring a major gives you access to scholarships, activities, and organizations within your chosen department

Minors, double majors, and dual degrees 

If you're interested in having a broader education, a single major may not be enough. Adding a minor to your academic plan allows you to widen your field of study with another focus. A minor can be related to your major (i.e., a psychology major and a minor in marketing) or something completely different (i.e., a psychology major and a minor in French). Typically, earning a minor requires at least 18 additional credit hours of coursework.   

You also have the option of completing a double major, which allows you to study a related subject to a more in-depth extent than a minor. Double major subjects are often in similar or complementary disciplines, like marketing and psychology, or international relations and Spanish. A double major usually requires at least 30 credits of classwork per major, and as such may require a minimum of an additional year of coursework. 


Get your bachelor's degree online

Choosing a major is an essential step toward getting your college degree. Now that you've learned more about declaring your major and the benefits of doing so, you can start thinking more about where you want to study. On Coursera, you can earn your bachelor's degree in a number of popular majors from storied universities. Check out degree options in Applied Arts and Sciences, Marketing, and Business Administration.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.