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The end of sophomore year is typically when students have to choose a college major. While it seems simple enough, the process can be a little intimidating.

After all, you're deciding which course the rest of your college education will take and potentially laying the foundation for your career path. Choosing a college major is a big decision but it's one that you can make confidently if you know how to approach it.

Ready to take the next step in college planning? This how-to guide lays out everything you need to know about how to pick a major.

What Is a College Major?

Your major is essentially the area of study in which you plan to specialize. Usually, your freshman and sophomore years are spent earning credits toward your general education classes. Things like math, science and English literature — courses you need to complete before declaring a major.

A major can be accompanied by a minor. This is a second subject that you also concentrate your studies in. If you're a political science major, for example, you might minor in computer science or mathematics. Minors require less course hours and they don't necessarily need to be related to your major.

When Do You Have to Declare a Major?

Every school is different in terms of when you have to choose a college major. It's common, however, for schools to ask students to declare their major at the end of sophomore year. This gives you enough time to plot out a course of study when you resume your studies as a junior in the fall. This is key to earning enough credits to graduate in the traditional four-year time frame.

Keep in mind that sooner may be better for certain majors that require you to take classes in a specific order, such as engineering or other STEM subjects. The sooner you declare your major, the sooner you can begin working on your course track.

Tips for Choosing a College Major

There's no standard rule for how to choose a college major but there are some ways to narrow it down. If you're struggling to settle on a course of study, here are some tips for how to pick a major you'll be excited about.

  • Start with your interests. Brainstorming can be a helpful way to choose a college major. Make a list of anything and everything you're passionate about. Then review your list and pick out a few things you could realistically see translating into a course of study.
  • Take stock of your abilities. Next, make a second list of your skills. Then compare that list to your list of interests to see where they overlap. For instance, you might have a knack for memorizing dates and an interest in other cultures, which could be perfect for majoring in history or anthropology.
  • Consider your career interests. As a child, you were probably asked a million times what you wanted to be when you grew up. If you're still pondering that question as a college student, reframe it in terms of your goals. Although you might not know exactly what you want to do professionally, you may have set a goal of doing work that helps people. Thinking in terms of goals can help you get some clarity on what kind of major would serve you best.
  • Get insight from other college grads. Another helpful tip for how to pick a major is talking to people who have already made the decision. You might have friends or family members who can share their experiences with choosing a major and what they liked (or didn't) about their choice. Your professors and advisers can also offer guidance on what kind of major might be best, based on your interests, skills and career goals.
  • Research the long-term outlook. You may also want to compare starting salaries for various careers to see which majors offer the highest pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook can help you get a feel for how much growth is expected in a particular field.

Can You Pick More Than One Major?

It's possible that you might have multiple things you're interested in or a career plan that involves a double dose of specialized study. In that case, you don't have to limit yourself to just one major; you can opt to double major instead.

This means you complete the coursework for two majors at the same time. In this case, the real question isn't necessarily how to choose a college major. The question becomes how to make sure you can commit the time and energy that's required to keep up with dual studies.

Can't Choose a Major? Don't Panic

If you've followed all of these tips for how to pick a major and you're still drawing a blank, it's okay. It just means you'll need to go back through each step and spend a little more time figuring out what it is you want to study and what kind of career you're interested in. Volunteering or completing an internship can be a good way to dip your toes into different fields. You can get some real-world experience to add to your résumé and you might just find some much-needed inspiration for choosing a college major.


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