Girl walking outdoors with backpack and books in hand

“How do I go about choosing a major or minor for college?”
—Taylor*, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

*Name changed

Choosing a major for college can be a joyous occasion (Hey, I found my life’s calling!) or it can be anxiety-producing (What if I change my mind? What if I realize I don’t like it?) or somewhere in between. I remember alternately experiencing highs and lows after I decided to major in English literature. While I loved my classes and the work, I didn’t love answering the question “And what are you going to do with that?”

You’ve still got plenty of time to make a decision—you likely won’t have to declare a major until your freshman or sophomore year of college—but it’s never too early to start giving it some thought. After 20 years of working with students, I’m now more convinced that choosing a major can be a better experience if you’re willing to answer the following questions:

What intrigues you?

  • Another way to ask this is “What classes interest you?”
  • The answer to this question can help you determine what major may sustain your interest over the long haul of completing a degree. To figure this out, scan a local college or university’s course descriptions.
  • Do the class descriptions excite you? Make you curious to learn more? Do they seem fun or worthwhile?

What bores you?

  • Or you may ask yourself, what topics would be excruciating for you to study?
  • Finding what you don’t like is just as important as discovering what you do like. No offense to anyone reading this, but I personally would have never felt excited in a music or a math class. And while I do like the process of learning, the thought of cutting something open and observing it in a science class did not excite me either. Scanning descriptions of courses can start you on the road to narrowing down your choices.

What’s your overall goal?

  • Do you think you will be going directly into the workforce after you graduate from college, or do you think you will want to continue your education?.
  • The answer to that question—even if you are not 100 percent sure now—may affect your decision on a major. For example, if you’re eyeing a job as a speech pathologist after college, you may want to do a little research to determine what majors are most likely to get into speech pathology graduate programs. Or if you want to go to law school, do some research on the majors of the top law students. (Hint: It may not be political science.)
  • You can use the same research steps if you want to go straight into the workforce after college. There are some industries in which a specific major is required, and others in which there is no preference for a specific major. You can start reviewing career information now to help you determine what you may want to major in when you get to college.

What are the requirements for this major?

  • Most colleges and universities give their students some time—usually two or three semesters—to make that decision. This usually means that they assume their students will explore possible majors within their first few semesters. When signing up for your first college courses, consider taking classes that interest you and that are required for you to complete early on. Then, use what you learn in those classes to help you make the decision about what possible majors would be a good fit for you.

Of course, after you have answered these questions—and done a little research—talk to everyone you can find. Ask college students, high school counselors, family members, family friends, and employers about how they made their own decisions and what advice they would give you. You’ll find that choosing a major or minor that suits your interests and long-term plans is a little bit science (doing the research) and a little bit of an art (staying true to yourself).

(*Name changed)