What Should I Major In? How to Pick Your College Major

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Whether you're not sure which major is right for you, or you're having trouble narrowing your options, there are a number of questions you can ask to get closer to an answer that feels right for you.

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Declaring a college major is an exciting moment along your learning journey. Sometimes, however, the choice can feel overwhelming given the number of subjects available to study. While it might be tempting to take a quiz that promises an easy answer, this is a decision that requires more reflection.

In this article, we'll go over a framework for thinking about the best college major for you, ways to build on your major, and what to do if you still can't decide. But first, let's review your options when it comes to selecting a college major.

College majors

College majors range by area, such as the arts & humanities, and by career focus, such as computer science or marketing. We've compiled majors across fields and career paths. Take a moment to review the ones that sound most interesting to you.

The most popular college majors continue to be business, health, and social sciences. Their popularity has much to do with the high median salary you may be able to earn after graduation as well as the number of openings available in each area. You may find that basing your decision on one of the more popular majors leads to more job openings and higher earnings.

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Choosing a college major: 5 questions to ask

While it's becoming increasingly common to choose a major based on the career options you'll have after graduation, that's only one factor. Many students pursue their passion, develop their interests, or follow their values, knowing that they're developing useful skills to help them pursue a range of opportunities. Use the questions below to begin narrowing your options.

1. What have you enjoyed about your work experiences? 

Your experiences—paid or otherwise—can reveal a good deal. Think about the past work you’ve completed: This could include internships, volunteering, and part-time or full-time roles. Which responsibilities felt energizing and which felt boring?

Understanding what you liked about certain kinds of work (and what you didn't) can guide you toward a major that builds on the experiences that give you energy.

2. What are your values? 

What you care about—and why—can be a strong indicator when deciding upon a major. Perhaps you want to find a job that pays well after graduation. Perhaps you’re concerned about a pressing issue, like climate change, and want to contribute to addressing it in some way.

Think about your values and list them in order of priority. Doing so can help you spotlight potential college majors. For example, if you're interested in the issue of climate change, then perhaps you want to explore environmental majors like environmental science or environmental engineering.

3. What are your interests? 

Make a list of any of the following: your favorite subjects, passions, hobbies, and activities. See if a general theme pops up. Identifying your passion doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll turn it into a career, but if you can dig deeper and figure out what you enjoy about it, you can begin honing in on majors that might allow you to develop those skills or characteristics.

For example, if you enjoy being artistic then you may want to pursue a major in studio art or graphic design. Or if you enjoy playing chess, then you may want to explore majors that emphasize logic, such as philosophy or computer science.  

4. What’s your “big picture?”  

Imagining your future can help you trace the steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve that dream. Think about where you’d like to be working and, as much as possible, what you’d like to be doing. Do you want to earn a lot or is a meaningful career more important? Do you want to live in a big city among the large industries or find something off the beaten track?

Understanding what you want your life to look like—as tricky as that can be to imagine sometimes—can be a useful exercise. Fast forwarding five or ten years can reveal a lot. 

5. What are your degree goals? 

There are many reasons to pursue a bachelor’s degree. As we mentioned earlier, it doesn’t always come down to career. List your reasons for pursuing a college degree in the first place.

These can include career prospects and preparation, quality of education, and on-campus experience, but they can also be more personal, like self-exploration, or more social, like building a community or alumni connections. 

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4 other factors to consider when choosing a college major 

The questions above can help you better understand yourself and what majors might be the best fit for you. But there are other career- and education-related factors to take into account.  

1. High-demand jobs 

High-demand jobs translate to more opportunities. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapist jobs are expected to grow by 21 percent in the next ten years compared to 9 percent for political scientist jobs [1] [2].

That’s not to say you should choose a major solely on career outcome potentials, but it’s a good idea to get a clear picture of what you’d like your future to entail. Going back to political science as an example, if you choose that major, you’ll at least know there may be more competition for fewer jobs. 

Learn more: 20 Highest-Paying Bachelor's Degree Jobs

2. Career longevity 

Industries come and go, so choosing a major that will lead to work in a lasting field can be important, especially as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning continue to automate many jobs and displace workers. 

Thinking about career longevity goes beyond thinking about specific industries. Studies have shown that the social skills—or interpersonal skills—students develop may be key to a long career. Unlike routine-heavy jobs that are becoming easier to automate, jobs that require social skills (or working with others) will likely have more longevity [3].

College majors that emphasize social skills:

  • Business administration

  • Marketing and communications

  • Physical therapy

  • Psychology 

  • Social work 

3. High-paying majors 

Knowing which majors pay the most for a bachelor’s degree can refine your options. According to Payscale’s College Salary Report, majors in accounting, engineering, and computer science tend to pay well [4].

But don’t discount a liberal arts education, which emphasizes transferable skills you can use to explore numerous career opportunities. While graduates tend to earn less for entry-level roles, they can make up for that differential over time if they move into higher-level roles [5].

4. Future education goals 

If you know you’d like to pursue a graduate degree after earning your bachelor’s, it’s a good idea to choose a major that will help set you on the best path. Students interested in law school, for example, often major in English or communications to gain a solid foundation in reading and writing. Similarly, many students interested in medical school major in biology or another natural science subject.  

Learn more: Is a Bachelor's Degree Worth It?

What if your interests don’t fit into one major? 

There may be times when what you like and what you want to achieve out of your education won't fit neatly into one pre-designed major. In that case, you have some options.

Choose a complementary minor. 

A college minor is an excellent way to supplement your major with a focused, but less intensive, secondary course of study. Minors do not have to be related to your major, but it can be helpful to choose a minor that complements your major and adds to your overall knowledge about a broader subject area. 

For example, you can major in economics and minor in business administration, or you can major in environmental sciences and minor in plant biology. 

Consider a double major. 

If you’re truly torn between two majors and can’t decide which to choose, a double major may be a good choice, though you should speak with an academic advisor to understand the amount of time and work involved. Double majors typically have to complete more required coursework and may need to get departmental approval. 

Look into flexible major options. 

A small but growing number of universities have either done away with majors altogether or now offer programs that allow students to build their own major, creating niched courses of study.  

Investigate whether the institution you’re considering offers an open curriculum or supplements traditional classroom learning with more experiential opportunities, like internships. 

Still undecided on a college major?

In a bachelor's degree program, you often have two years to take a range of classes before declaring your major. That means you have two years to explore different topics and figure out where you'd like to focus the second half of your undergraduate education.

Take electives.

Your first two years of study will likely be dedicated to completing an array of required foundational courses before you begin taking classes dedicated to your major. Use that time to take an elective or two and explore your options.  

Talk to a counselor.

College and universities provide counselors to make sure you're on track by taking required courses and working toward your major. They can also be excellent sounding boards if you're undecided and need additional guidance to find the best major for you.

Complete an internship.

Many students wait until their junior or senior year to begin an internship in their chosen field, but you can get started early. Find opportunities during the summer breaks to see if you enjoy the work and would like to further explore a related major.

Opt for a general studies major.

If you still aren’t sure where to focus your efforts, a general studies major can be a good option. You’ll benefit from a multidisciplinary curriculum that draws on the humanities, arts, and sciences, all of which provides you with a balanced education. 

Next steps

Earn your bachelor's degree from a renowned university on Coursera. Many are designed with majors and specializations in in-demand areas, like computer science, marketing, or general business. You can learn at your own place without having to relocate.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Article sources

1

US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Physical Therapists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm." Accessed January 11, 2023.

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