What Is a Major in College?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jan 5, 2022

Focusing on your interests and turning those interests into a potential career is an exciting part about college. That starts with choosing your major.

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

Earning your bachelor's degree involves declaring a major, which is the particular field of study you choose to pursue after completing your general education requirements. A few examples of majors include business administration, computer science, and psychology.

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

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 it's usually not mandatory. If you don't have to declare your major as a first-year student then you will likely need to do so by the end of your second year—that's typically when most students complete their general ed requirements and begin their major coursework.

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. 

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. And 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 college.

  • 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.

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. 

Business

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 

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

Communications

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

  • Verbal and nonverbal messaging

  • Fundamentals of presentation

  • Persuasion 

  • Workplace communication

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?

Education

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, 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

Psychology

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:

  • Advertising

  • Sales

  • Writing

  • Market research

  • Childcare

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

What are the highest-paying college majors?

Some college students don't place a high value on potential salary when choosing a major. For others, it plays a big role, especially if they've paid for college with student loans. 

These are the top-paid majors among those who graduated with a bachelor's degree in 2020, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers [2]:

MajorAverage starting salary
Computer programming$86,098
Computer science$85,766
Electrical engineering$80,819
Operations research$80,166
Statistics$75,916
Applied mathematics$73,558

 

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.

  • Consider strengths you might have like problem-solving, public speaking, or empathy for others.

  • Think about what you want to be doing in five or ten years.

  • Consider the longevity of your desired career.

  • Determine whether you'll need education beyond an undergraduate degree.

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

Other options: 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 social work) 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. 

Next steps

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.

Related articles

Article sources

1. Central College. "Undecided/Exploring, https://central.edu/academics/majors/exploring/." Accessed December 22, 2021.

2. National Association of Colleges and Employers. "Salaries for College Graduates Climb Even in the Face of the Pandemic, https://www.naceweb.org/about-us/press/salaries-for-college-graduates-climb-even-in-the-face-of-the-pandemic/." Accessed December 22, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jan 5, 2022

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.

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