What is a Major in College? How Do You Choose One?

Last updated March 6, 2024

When you’ve decided to attend college, you’ll likely hear two frequent questions: “Where are you going to college?” and “What are you majoring in?” While most students may have the answer to the first question, the second question may still be “undecided” – and that’s okay!

A major is an intended area of study – and it’s difficult to choose. Deciding on your major in college is the first step to your career. You want to choose a major that interests you, of course, but you also need to consider how you will perform academically in the selected area of study and how it will prepare you for your desired career. After all, once you’ve chosen a major, between one-third and one-half of your college courses will be related to it.

This blog post will explain exactly what a major is in college, provide tips for choosing a major you love and everything in between.

What Is a major in college?

A major in college is a specific subject area students specialize in. Throughout their studies, students earn course credits toward their major to graduate with a degree in that subject.

For example, students majoring in accounting at Furman University will take required courses such as Introduction to Economics, Introduction to Statistics, Auditing, Principles of Accounting and multiple interdisciplinary accounting courses. These courses are required to earn a B.A. in accounting.

You must choose a major in college to graduate with a degree, and you may also select multiple majors if you desire.

What’s the difference between a major and minor in college?

Students also have the opportunity to choose a minor in college. The difference between a major and a minor in college is that a minor is optional and requires you to earn fewer course credits to achieve it.

Choosing a major and a minor is an excellent alternative to a double major, especially for those with busy schedules outside of school due to work, social, athletic or club commitments.

What are the different types of majors?

There are almost endless amounts of majors available to college students. Large universities typically offer hundreds of majors, while smaller schools may offer only the most popular major categories. 

Most popular major categories

The most popular major categories include STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics), humanities, social sciences and arts. Included in these categories are popular majors such as:

  • STEM: biology, computer science, physics
  • Humanities: English, art history, philosophy
  • Social sciences: political science, economics, psychology
  • Arts: photography, film, music

New/emerging majors

In addition to traditional majors, explore opportunities in emerging majors. These majors are newer to college catalogs but increasingly popular as careers. Examples of emerging majors include New Media, Social Media, Biometrics, Data Science and Homeland Security.

Interdisciplinary major

Another nontraditional major is interdisciplinary studies. Interdisciplinary studies merge multiple majors into one, such as merging political science and German to specialize in German history, political science, language and culture.

Impact on career opportunities

The major you choose dramatically influences your career path, as the education you receive prepares you with the basic knowledge you need to enter the workforce in your intended field of study. For example, majoring in accounting will give you the basic knowledge and skills to perform an entry-level accounting position in most companies successfully.

While many majors are general enough to offer you the transferable skills to land a job in various industries, some majors have specific career tracks you must follow. For example, accounting majors may find a career in accounting in health care, retail or even aeronautical science. On the other hand, art history majors may find work exclusively in museums or art galleries.

Similarly, majors like communications and psychology can prepare you for many different careers in different industries as they provide transferable skills that can be used in almost any job.

Specialized majors, tracks and concentrations

Some highly regulated careers and industries require you to choose specialized majors within a broader field of study. For example, biochemistry is a specialized biology or health sciences major. Biochemistry is an excellent major choice for students who want to explore a career in medicine, diseases and disorders or even environmental science. It’s also a popular choice for pre-med students.

Pre-professional programs and certificates

Undergraduate programs like pre-med/pre-health, pre-law, military science and post-baccalaureate certificates develop the skills needed to further a career in a specific industry. For example, a pre-med program develops undergraduate knowledge and skills students need to graduate to the next stage of their medical degree to become a doctor or nurse.

Choosing a specialized focus or a track within a major has its advantages. For many with strong interests within a field, it allows them to fully explore the knowledge related to a specific career or industry. For example, choosing a marketing track within a business degree will enable students to hone their skills in marketing communications, campaigns and creativity rather than selecting the accounting track within a business degree which focuses on mathematics in economics and business.

Dual majors and minors

Students who can’t choose just one major have options, too. Many colleges allow you to pursue dual majors, which means you can earn a degree in more than one field of study. Some students pursue degrees in related fields, such as business and political science. In contrast, others choose to explore dual degrees in varying fields, such as studio art and business. It’s wise to talk to an advisor about whether or not selecting a dual major will work (or is allowed) for your intended studies.

Dual major benefits

The benefits of pursuing a dual major include showcasing your ability to multitask and identifying your specialized knowledge within an industry. It certainly can set you apart when entering the workforce. However, earning dual majors requires immense focus and time, as you’re studying to complete two programs, often within the same time as students who pursue just one degree.

Choosing a minor

If the thought of earning two majors at one time is overwhelming, you also have the option to add a minor to your major degree program. Minors have a smaller time commitment, though they have similar advantages to dual majors. While studying to earn your major, you can take extra classes that identify your unique interest in a secondary field or industry. A common major and minor pairing includes business with a second language.

Major and career alignment exercises

Do you need help choosing between majors or one that fits your interests? Self-assessment exercises can help you align your interests and strengths with potential majors. Do you love helping others? Consider majoring in a social science, such as psychology, or health science, such as pre-med or biology. Do you love tinkering with software? Consider majoring in computer sciences or engineering.

Consider completing a personality assessment for an even deeper study into career exploration based on your personality. Furman offers individual coaching through the Shucker Center for Leadership Development to assess your natural fit within a career. Using Gallup’s CliftonStrengths program, we help students explore their personality and use it to chart a career path within a field that complements their strengths and weaknesses.

Other personality assessments may serve as career aptitude tests that identify your strengths and connect them with common careers, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, 16personalities and more.

Changing majors and flexibility

Once you begin your major studies, you may find that the subject matter just isn’t for you, or perhaps an internship in the field didn’t interest you as expected. If you fear commitment, don’t worry; changing your major is possible. 

Changing majors may require additional years of schooling. However, transitioning between majors can be relatively simple once you’ve completed your core classes. Specific majors may have rules regarding when you can change majors or how many times you can change. To ensure a smooth transition, talk to an advisor who can guide you through the process and ensure you follow protocol. You may find it easier to transition majors within a particular school, such as the business school, as many courses may fulfill both majors.

Tips for declaring a major

You must declare a major once you’ve earned a certain number of core course credits. To officially declare a major, you will likely meet with an academic advisor and sign a declaration explaining the major you intend to study and the related requirements to earn the degree. Failing to declare a major officially may prevent you from enrolling in your next semester of classes.

Whether you’ve known you wanted to be a doctor since you were six or just decided to explore a career in social media, it’s essential to seek advice from an academic advisor regarding the requirements to earn a degree. Not only do advisors help you schedule the classes needed to graduate, but they can also help guide you toward relevant courses that speak to your interests.

Balancing passion and practicality

When choosing a major, balancing your interests and passions with practical career implications is essential. Of course, you want to choose a major (and thus career path) that interests you, as your ideal job and day-to-day professional tasks should be exciting and rewarding.

There are ways to combine your passions with practicality when choosing a career. You can list everything you love doing, areas you excel at and industries that interest you.

For example, Allison loves art, creating things with her hands and writing. She excels in her sales job at a local clothing store. She may find a major in advertising or graphic design interesting as she pursues a career in marketing.

The role of internships and experiential learning

You may participate in hands-on experiences such as internships or research projects during college. These opportunities are invaluable to shaping your career choices. As mentioned previously, it’s not uncommon that through participating in an internship, you find that you may want to change your career goals. Perhaps you find a passion for a specific industry or discover that a particular career is not for you.

Experiential learning can clarify your interests. We encourage all students to participate in as many professional and study-related experiences as possible to enhance career goal-setting and identification.

Considering advanced degrees

Some students use their college major as the foundation for a specific advanced degree program, such as a medical degree. Many undergraduate majors lead directly into a related graduate study program, such as business or legal studies.

Some professions, like medical doctors, may require a specific graduate or advanced doctorate to practice a particular career path. However, there isn’t a requirement for a specific undergraduate degree for such careers. Despite the lack of requirements, many students choose to major in a related field. For example, many doctors receive an undergraduate degree in biology, biochemistry, health sciences, etc.

Addressing common myths and misconceptions

A common misconception is that you must get a job using your chosen major. While it’s undoubtedly helpful (and sometimes a job requirement), modern industries often value the hard and soft skills earned through real-world experience over the major you chose in college. There are many transferable skills that employers look for between careers and industries, such as communication, creative thinking, problem-solving and other skills that many majors provide their students.

The Furman Advantage

Liberal arts universities are known for taking a well-rounded approach toward education, providing students with the skills to prepare them for any career. Specifically at Furman, The Furman Advantage prepares our students for lives of purpose and accelerated career and community impact. Going beyond the major-related knowledge learned in the classroom, The Furman Advantage helps students prepare to succeed through leadership and a sense of greater purpose.

If you have concerns about choosing a major, speak to an academic advisor or mentor. They’ll be able to provide assurance and helpful insight into where the worlds of education and career prep meet. If you’re set on a specific career path, rather than open to many different paths, research the educational experience of successful thought leaders in the industry to learn more about what majors work for your desired career. 

When choosing a major in college, it’s essential to evaluate how your passions and interests align with your career aspirations. However, it’s critical to remember that the college major you choose does not limit your career potential. There are opportunities to earn dual majors, change your major and use your undergraduate major as the foundation for the next step in graduate school.

Just as choosing a specific college or university immensely impacts the trajectory of your life, your intended major will, too. Enjoy evaluating and discovering all the areas of study available to you; the world is your oyster, and you’re just beginning!

The perspectives and thoughts shared in the Furman Blog belong solely to the author and may not align with the official stance or policies of Furman University. All referenced sources were accurate as of the date of publication.