14 College Majors

Sonji Nicholas

Learning Outcomes

  • List key strategies for selecting a college major

Selecting Your Major

In United States colleges and universities, roughly 2,000 majors are offered. And within each major is a host of core courses and electives. When you successfully complete the required courses in your major, you qualify for a degree.

Where did the term major come from? In 1877, it first appeared in a Johns Hopkins University catalogue. That major required only two years of study. Later, in 1910, Abbott Lawrence Lowell introduced the academic major system to Harvard University during his time as president there. This system required students to complete courses in a specialized discipline and also in other subjects. Variations of this system are now the norm in higher education institutions in the US and Canada.

Why is your major important? It’s important because it’s a defining and organizing feature of your undergraduate degree. Ultimately, your major should provide you with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and/or behaviors you need to fulfill your college goals and objectives.

In this section, we look at how to select your major and how your college major may correlate with a career. Does your major matter to your career? What happens if you change your major? Does changing your major mean you must change your career? Read on to find out!

How to Select Your Major

Selecting your major is one of the most exciting tasks (and, to some students, perhaps one of the most nerve-wracking tasks) you are asked to perform in college. So many decisions are tied to it. But if you have good guidance, patience, and enthusiasm, the process is easier. Here are some tips to follow as you consider your college major.

Seek Inspiration

Inspiration is all around us. Maybe there’s somebody in your life (a friend, a mentor, or someone else) who inspires you with what they do, how they spend their time, or their passion for their work. Maybe you’re inspired by a celebrity or a person you admire whom you learned about from the news or a documentary. Maybe there’s a historical figure that you remember from grade school that you really admire. Think about what or who inspires you, and what that says about your passions and your values. When you’re inspired, you will find motivation. It’s worth it to consider that inspiration reason enough to pursue a college major, considering the amount of time and effort you’ll put into completing your degree!

Consider Everything

Don’t let preconceived notions of what you think you can do hold you back from considering all the options. Think about it: you probably already have a list of majors you think you would never consider, whether it’s because you think you couldn’t do well, you think you don’t like the topic, or you believe it’s not a good choice for you. You may be right, but before you go ahead and let your assumptions get in the way, really take a look at all your options and consider them! Try to challenge the beliefs you have about yourself, your abilities, and those majors, before you make any fast choices. You might be surprised what can happen after taking an intro course in a field you’d never considered before.

Identify Talents and Interests

What are your talents and interests? Think about what used to just light up your life when you were a child. What did you like to do when you were a teenager? What do you come back to again and again, as the years go on? What do you enjoy doing to pass the time? Maybe you love playing music or making art. Maybe you love writing. Think about how your talents and interests can connect to a potential college major. If you love keeping up with and writing about current events, journalism might be a good option for you. If you’ve always loved math, you might want to consider accounting or statistics! If you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas, consider asking some people who know you best. We often can’t see ourselves as clearly as those who love us best.

Explore Available Resources

There are lots of resources available to you to learn more about choosing a college major. You can learn more online about how college majors map into certain careers, you can talk to other students such as your peer mentor who are farther along in their college career, and you can talk to your professors about what it’s like to enter certain fields of study. You can also schedule an appointment to meet with FSW Academic Advising.  Every person is different, so take others’ advice with a grain of salt, but it’s always worth it to get another person’s perspective, especially if they are doing something you think you might want to do in the future.

Try It


In-Depth Career Exploration

You can learn a lot about a career before you ever accept a job offer. Talk to people in your prospective career and see what it’s like for them. You can find people to contact through your school’s alumni network or through LinkedIn. It might seem hard at first, but people are generally more open to spending 30 minutes of their time talking to you about their experience than you might initially think. Another way you can explore in-depth career exploration would be to shadow someone for a day at their job. This option requires more of a commitment from you and the person you’re shadowing, but if you’re genuinely interested in a career path then it could be really important information for you to gain by watching or joining someone on their job for the day.

The next video shares nine more tips on selecting your college major:

  1. Narrow your choices by deciding what you don’t like.
  2. Explore careers that might interest you. Ask questions.
  3. Use your school’s resources.
  4. Ask your teacher, counselor, and family about your strengths.
  5. Remember, 60 percent of students change their majors.
  6. Your major isn’t going to define your life. But choosing one that interests you will make your college experience much more rewarding.
  7. Go on informational interviews with people in careers that interest you.
  8. There’s no pressure to decide now.
  9. Take new classes and discover your interests.

You can view the transcript for “How to Select Your College Major – WiseChoice” here (opens in new window).


Majors and Career Paths

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify the relationship between college majors and career paths

There are few topics about college that create more controversy than, “does your major really matter to your career?” Many people think it does; others think it’s not so important. Who is right? And who gets to weigh in? Also, how do you measure whether something “matters”—by salary, happiness, personal satisfaction?

Will Your College Major Determine Your Career Path?

It may be difficult to say for sure whether your major truly matters to your career. One’s college major and ultimate career are not necessarily correlated. It is not unusual for students to change majors at least once during their college experience as interests shift and new aptitudes are discovered along the educational journey.  Regardless of major, students gain transferrable skills while participating in courses such as speaking, writing, critical thinking, computer literacy, problem-solving, and team building.  These skills are in-demand and highly sought by employers across industries.  Regardless of the specific profession you ultimately pursue, honing transferrable skills while in college will prove advantageous to you throughout your career.

Try It


Marc Luber, host of Careers Out There, is here to share a personal story about selecting your college major and finding the right career fit. Enjoy his insights, which he sums up with “Focus on what makes you tick and run with it.”

You can view the transcript for “Choosing a College Major & Finding the Right Career Fit” here (opens in new window).

The best guidance on choosing a major and connecting it with a career may be to get good academic and career advice and select a major that reflects your greatest interests. If you don’t like law or medicine but you major in it because of a certain salary expectation, you may later find yourself in an unrelated job that brings you greater satisfaction—even if the salary is lower. If this is the case, will it make more sense, looking back, to spend your time and tuition dollars studying a subject you actually enjoy?  The answer to this varies by individual.  Every student who pursues a college degree and a subsequent career may tell a different story about the impact of their major on their professional directions.

Sources for Learning More about Majors and Careers

Your journey may be a straight line that connects the dots between today and your future, or it may resemble a twisted road with curves, bumps, hurdles, and alternate routes.

To help you navigate your pathway to career success, take advantage of all the resources available to you. Your college, your community, and the wider body of higher-education institutions and organizations have many tools to help you with career development. Be sure to take advantage of the following resources:

  • College course catalog: Course catalogs are typically rich with information that can spark ideas and inspiration for your major and your career.  Be sure to look at the most recent FSW Catalog
  • Faculty: Many college professors are also practitioners in their fields and can share insights with you about related professions.
  • Academic Advisor: Advisement is vital to a productive and fruitful college experience and you are encouraged to schedule an appointment with FSW Advising at least once per semester to ensure that you are registering for classes necessary for your major and career interests.  In Cornerstone Experience class, you will meet with your Advisor to gain insights on academic preparation needed for your intended career and to optimize course selection for the upcoming semester.  Meeting with your Advisor is also a required activity for the Go Picture Scribe (GPS) assignment, so take a photo to document this meeting for later use in your presentation.
  • Fellow students and graduating seniors: Many of your classmates, especially those who share your major, may have had experiences that can inform and enlighten you—for instance, an internship with an employer or a job interview with someone who could be contacted for more information.
  • Students who have graduated: Most colleges and universities have active alumni programs with networking resources that can help you make important decisions.
  • Your family and social communities: Contact friends and family members who can weigh in with their thoughts and experience.
  • A career center: Professionals in career centers have a wealth of information to share with you—they’re also very good at listening and can act as a sounding board for you to try out your ideas.

Many organizations have free materials that can provide guidance, such as the ones in the table, below:

Learn More About Majors and Careers
1 List of College Majors (MyMajors) A list of more than 1,800 college majors—major pages include description, courses, careers, salary, related majors, and colleges offering the major
2 Common Mistakes Students Make in Choosing a Major (Wayne State University) Lists common misperceptions about choosing a major and explains how these misperceptions can cloud future plans
3 Best college majors for your career 2015–2016 (Yahoo.com) Explores a detailed list of the top ten majors that give students the greatest potential for success in the workplace, good incomes, and ample job opportunities
4 Explore Careers (BigFuture/The College Board) Explores careers with “Show me majors that match my interests,” “Show me new career ideas,” and “Show me how others made their choices”
5 The College Major: What It Is and How To Choose One (BigFuture/The College Board) When to choose a major, how to choose a major, “you can change your mind,” majors and graduate school, and majors and professions

The Student Experience

What I Would Like To Do

I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I started college, but that changed three times by the time I graduated. Initially I started as an International Business major but ended up receiving a degree in Communication and continued on to graduate school. My greatest advice to you is to embrace feelings of uncertainty (if you have them) with regard to your academic, career, or life goals. Stop into the Career Services office on your campus to identify what it is that you really want to do when you graduate or to confirm your affinity to a career path. Make an appointment to see a counselor if you need to vent or get a new perspective. Do an internship in your field; this can give you a first-hand impression of what your life might look like in that role.

When I chose International Business, I did not do so as an informed student. I enjoyed and excelled in my business courses in high school and I had hopes of traveling the world, so International Business seemed to fit the bill. Little did I know, the major required a lot of accounting and economics which, as it turned out, were not my forte. Thinking this is what I wanted, I wasted time pursuing a major I didn’t enjoy and academic courses I struggled through.

So I took a different approach. I began speaking to the professionals around me that had jobs that appealed to me: Student Unions/Activities, Leadership, Orientation, Alumni, etc. I found out I could have a similar career, and I would enjoy the required studies along the way. Making that discovery provided direction and purpose in my major and extracurricular activities. I felt like everything was falling into place.

What I Actually Do

I would like to . . . ask you to consider why you are in college. Why did you choose your institution? Have you declared a major yet? Why or why not? What are your plans post-graduation? By frequently reflecting in this way, you can assess whether or not your behaviors, affiliations, and activities align with your goals.

What you actually do with your student experience is completely up to you. You are the only person who can dictate your collegiate fate. Remind yourself of the reasons why you are in college and make sure your time is spent on achieving your goals. There are resources and people on your campus available to help you. You have the control—use it wisely.

—Kristen Mruk, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom


major: a specialized focus on a particular discipline within one’s college studies, typically in preparation for a line of work that requires a relevant credential

transferrable skills: those which are widely applicable, such as speaking, writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving, which are valued by prospective employers and can be cultivated within many different college majors.



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College Majors Copyright © 2023 by Sonji Nicholas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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