Ann Cinelli, M.Ed.
Choosing a Major
Updated: Mar 10
College Majors Explained
For some college bound students choosing a specific major is one of the most important factors in their college selection process. Up there with location, type of school and school size. Let’s dive into what a college major is, how to explore and what different schools offer.
To start, what is a college major? Simply put, a major is a specific area of study that leads to a degree (i.e. bachelors of science) and then a career. Typically a major is earned in 36 credits. Some majors are broad like English others can be specific like chemical engineering. Oftentimes the more specific the major the more specific career after college.
Once you are off and running with your college course work, you may elect to add another major or perhaps a minor. Each school is different in how they allow students to achieve this however sometimes it can be as simple as adding on additional courses. Some common majors that go together are - Engineering & Mathematics or Business & Economics
What does a major look like in College?
General Education requirements + College Major + Electives = Bachelor’s degree.
Each college/university has their own ‘core curriculum,’ similar to high school it usually consists of English, Math, Science, History etc. Depending on the school, students need to take 1 or 2 classes in each area while diving into their major. However, this looks different at each institution - this is where finding the right college fit for you comes in.
At Brown University where they have an open curriculum, majors are called concentrations and can be combined with other classes to create the academic program you are interested in. When you apply to Brown you will choose a concentration of interest however you are not tied to that, Brown students choose a degree and concentration by the end of their 2nd year.
This is different then other schools like Texas A&M and UT Austin. Majors are a bit more “traditional” in that you choose one and sometimes a second and are considered for admission into that particular program as well as the school. Once admitted it can be very hard to change into another major, availability and previous coursework are two large considerations.
What the major has to offer at each school can be different as well. Interested in Sports Science? Check out the University of Oregon and their relationship with Nike. Finance and investing more your speed, find a school like NYU that has an investment pool for students in classes to invest and earn with. Interested in Engineering, at Texas A&M research alongside industry professionals and faculty is ingrained in the program. - All schools are so unique.
How do I determine what I should major in?
As a 16, 17 year old deciding and committing what you want to be when you grow up and aligning that with a major at a college can be a daunting task. In a 2020 BestCollege study 3 out of 5 college graduates would change their majors if they could go back.
Let’s try and help you find the major that is right for you. Some great resources for this are:
• University of Texas at Austin - My Majors Quiz (it prompts you to create an account but is very spot on – see example below).
• University of Illinois UC - Self interest inventory then major match tool
• College Board and/or ACT - both accounts you may already have
• You Science - It allows you to identify strengths and take what you like and are good at and turn it into future plans.
Another great resource is a blog written by my colleague and friend Bonnie Kleffman, Career Exploration: It begins with self knowledge. The tools and resources here as well as in our Career Lab for scholars are exceptional in helping you narrow down an area of interest.
The key to all of this is self-discovery.
For those that are still undecided there are some colleges that are great at helping you choose a major or path. Northeastern, Brown, Rice are great examples of open curriculum schools. They allow for mentorship and exploration while getting the general education courses done in the first year or so.
Finding the right college major can sometimes be as challenging as finding the right college. With over 4,000 higher education institutions in the US and over 1,800 majors there is one that is right for you.