What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate

Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 14, 2021

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. Give yourself time for introspection. While it might be tempting to take a quiz that promises an easy answer, this isn't a decision you want to rush into. In the long run, it will be beneficial to think through your goals and objectives.

Whether you’re not sure about which college major to choose, or you’re having trouble narrowing down your options, there are a number of questions you can ask to get closer to an answer. 

Read more: What is a Bachelor’s Degree: Requirements, Costs, and More

Choosing a college major: 5 questions to ask

1. What have I enjoyed about my 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? Is there a particular area in which you’d like to grow? 

Another helpful question: Are you industry oriented or work-oriented? In other words, is there one specific industry that interests you, or are you more interested in a type of work, like communications or design, that could be done in a variety of industries? 

2. What are my 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. Your values can help spotlight potential college majors. 

3. What are my interests? 

Make a list of your favorite subjects, passions, hobbies, and activities to 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. Ask yourself: What do I want to learn more about? 

4. What’s my “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. 

If you have some idea about work, no matter how concrete, you can explore related majors. Fast forwarding five or ten years can reveal a lot. 

5. What are my degree goals? 

There are many reasons to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Believe it or not, 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, on-campus experience, but they can also be more personal, like self-exploration, or more social, like building a community or alumni connections. 

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.  

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. 

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 

Coursera offers classes designed to help you explore an array of jobs and industries so you can figure out which one might be most fulfilling for you. Get started on exploring a new career path.

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. 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].

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 writing foundation. Similarly, many students interested in medical school major in biology or another natural science subject.  

Read more: Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider

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

Choose a complementary minor. 

A 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. 

What if I still don’t know what to choose?

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.  

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. 

The right college major

The “right” college major is ultimately the one that’s best for you, one that: builds upon your interest in a subject area, helps you achieve your education goals, and prepares you for a satisfying career path. 

Ready to start exploring? Explore bachelor’s degrees on Coursera.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Related articles

Articles sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Physical Therapists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm." Accessed October 11, 2021.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Political Scientists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm." Accessed October 11, 2021.

3. National Bureau of Economic Research. "The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market, https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w21473/w21473.pdf." Accessed October 11, 2021.

4. Payscale. "Highest Paying Jobs with a Bachelor's Degree, https://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report/majors-that-pay-you-back/bachelors." Accessed October 11, 2021.

5. The New York Times. "Six Myths About Choosing a College Major, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/education/edlife/choosing-a-college-major.html." Accessed October 11, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Oct 14, 2021

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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