Tips For Choosing Your Intended Major and Why It Matters
Choosing a major is one of the most important yet challenging aspects of attending college. Throughout grade school and even much of high school, you’re told what classes you need to take.
You only have a few choices to make as you’re mostly covering core fundamentals. By the time you reach your junior or senior year of high school, you’ll start to hear people asking you about your intended major.
“What’s an intended major?”, you might be wondering. Well, it simply refers to the area of study you’re planning to pursue in college.
Since you’re not yet in college and haven’t formally declared a core subject, it’s referred to as an intended major. Unlike grade school and high school where most classes are already chosen, you have complete control over what you study in college.
Your major will determine which courses you take, making it an incredibly impactful decision. It’s for this reason that many students feel stressed and even a little pressured to make this choice in high school.
To help alleviate some of that anxiety, we’ll take a look at some proven tips for helping you choose your intended major along with an explanation of why this decision is important.
When do you declare your intended major?
At most four-year colleges, you don’t have to decide on a major until the end of your sophomore year.
This gives you time to try a couple of classes and see what you like before you decide, and earn general education credits that count toward your degree. Keep in mind, certain fields and programs (like most pharmacy programs) require an early commitment so you can take all the required classes and graduate on time.
On the Common App and most other college applications, there’s a section requesting applicants to mention their intended major. Don’t worry! This decision is by no means binding. If you put down American History and end up changing it to Quantum Physics, nobody is going to care.
Admissions officers just want to get a better idea of what you’re considering pursuing. If you are firm about what you want to study, it’s important to drive that home throughout your application.
Admissions officers will look for consistency throughout your application. If you mention various fields of study throughout your essays and in other parts of the application.
It might come across as confusing and disjointed. When colleges see an application that’s consistent throughout, it makes a bigger impact as it shows a student who has thoroughly considered what they want to study. Again, you can always change it later, so don’t get too caught up in the decision early on.
Can you change your major in college?
Yes, you can change your major in college! Phew, that’s a large weight off your shoulders. But how many times can you change your major? Well, there’s no actual limit to the number of times a student can choose a new major.
Of course, the costs will start to add up quickly as you’ll have to pay for all of the classes you take. And since every major requires a unique set of classes, you’ll often end up taking a step backward when switching your major, especially in your junior and senior years of college.
But don’t worry! If you’re not 100% sure about your major, you’re not alone. In fact, 80% of students change their intended major at least once. Some change it two, three, or even four times!
How to pick your intended major.
1. Figure out what you like.
One of the first steps you can take when deciding on a college major is to figure out what you actually like. Diving straight into the various majors available to you can only make the process more difficult before you know what piques your interest.
When you’re further along in your academic career, you’ll have enough experience and information from classes to determine precisely what major best matches these interests. You can kick things off by making a list of 10 to 20 things that you love.
You don’t have to stick to things in the classroom. Think outside the box. What are you passionate about? What do you do in your free time? What kind of activities make you happy? These are all questions you should be asking when making this list. Have fun with it!
2. Make a list of strengths and weaknesses.
Another helpful step when choosing an intended major is to make a list of what you’re good at and what you struggle with. After all, picking a major isn’t just about what you enjoy doing, it’s also about what you’re good at doing.
Of course, you’ll learn to develop your skills over time, but sometimes identifying your key areas of strength can shed some light on potential areas of study. For example, maybe public speaking is a strong suit of yours which might point to a career in marketing or communications.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t enjoy being the shot-caller which would mean a career in business might not be ideal. But these strengths and weaknesses are not intended to discourage you.
Rather, they’re simply a way to see where you stand in terms of abilities and skills. You can always choose to pursue a field in which you’re not particularly strong right now because there’s always room for improvement.
3. Think about potential careers
Woah! Hold on a second. Careers? Aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves? While it might seem counterintuitive to look past college when trying to figure out your intended major, sometimes looking ahead can provide clarity in the present.
After all, the whole purpose of attending college is to prepare yourself for a successful career. The major you choose plays a large role in determining what kinds of professional opportunities you’re qualified for.
Think about some potential careers you think you would enjoy. Don’t worry about money, location, or other factors for now. Just focus on the work itself and whether or not it would pique your interest.
If you’re able to identify a few careers you could picture yourself pursuing, the next step is to figure out what majors could help put you on a path to land a position in that particular field.
4. Look outside of the classroom.
There’s a natural tendency to keep your focus on academics when trying to determine your intended major. It makes sense on the face of it. You need to figure out what you want to pursue academically in college so why not only look at the classes you’ve taken in the past?
While academics are an integral part of choosing a major, you need to look outside of the classroom too. Any information you can get about you, your interests, and your strengths can make the decisions easier.
So look at the extracurriculars you’ve done, the clubs you’ve joined, and other out-of-school activities to see if you can’t glean any inspiration in terms of determining your college major. You might be surprised at what these activities reveal.
5. Look into some potential majors.
One of the biggest hurdles high schoolers face when choosing a college major is a lack of familiarity with the actual major programs themselves. Too often, people speak of major in abstract terms as if nothing can be known about them.
In reality, colleges have very detailed curriculums for each major detailing the individual classes being taught, research opportunities, and other insightful specifics. This information will let you know what it’s actually like to pursue any given major in college.
While specifics might vary between schools, the broader context of each major should be comparable so don’t worry about finding information from a school about a major that you might not end up attending.
6. Speak with family and friends.
Sometimes, the people we spend the most time with can notice things about ourselves that we even can’t. And the same is true for college majors! Speaking with your friends and family members can help provide some insight into what you might enjoy studying and what you might excel at.
While you can simply ask people directly what they think you should study in college, sometimes it’s better to break it down into smaller questions. For example:
- What do you see as my main strengths/weaknesses?
- What careers could you see me doing well in?
- What do you think makes me the happiest?
- What classes do you think I did the best in?
These aren’t questions with right or wrong answers. Instead, they’re simply used to help your friends and family come up with some ideas that might give you a new perspective to consider when choosing your college major.
7. Ask your high school counselor.
High school counselors are one of the most under-utilized resources high schoolers have at their disposal. Think about it for a minute. High school advisors are experts at helping students prepare for college.
And one of the most important decisions involved in this transition process is determining a major. Counselors with years or even decades of experience have a wealth of insight and expertise to help you figure out what major might be a good fit.
Better yet, nobody knows your academic performance better than your high school counselor. Set up a meeting with your counselor at least once before you graduate from high school to ask for help in choosing your major.
Your advisor will be more than happy to help, and you might just come out with an intended major you feel confident about!
8. Explore your interests.
High schoolers don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to what classes they take. However, the little bit of flexibility you’re given can make a big difference when determining your college major.
Instead of taking blow-off classes, consider taking a course related to a field in which you’re interested. This exposure to the subject can help you further determine whether it’s something you would enjoy pursuing in college or not.
But don’t limit your exploration to academics. Look for extracurriculars and other out-of-school activities related to your fields of interest. The whole idea is to gain as much exposure to these subjects as possible.
This experience can help you eliminate fields of study which aren’t a good match for you while making it easier to identify a few that make the cut. You’ll have to make the effort to explore these fields as you’re the only person who knows what you like and dislike.
How does your intended major impact college admissions?
The vast majority of colleges and universities don’t require students to claim their major before applying or even attending. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try your hardest to have an intended major before sending in your application. In fact, having an intended major can have a large impact on your chances of getting into the school of your choice.
Admissions officers have thousands and sometimes even tens of thousands of applications to sift through. As a result, any unique identifier can help you stand out from the crowd. Having intended major completeness your application and helps admissions officers gain a better understanding of who you are what you’re interested in, and what you have to offer.
What if I can’t choose a major before applying to college?
If you’ve followed all of these tips and still struggle to choose a major, you’re not alone! Many high schoolers send out their applications without having a clear idea of what they want to study.
Fortunately, most colleges don’t require that students know exactly what they want to study. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.
If you’re applying to college and still are unsure about your field of study, your first step is to determine what you want to put on your application. Although there is an “undecided” option on most applications, you want to avoid putting this if possible. It’s better to choose a major and change it later than to turn in an application with an “undecided” major.
Think hard about what subjects you’ve enjoyed most in high school and what careers you think you would enjoy. Accuracy isn’t necessarily the goal here. You just want to provide admissions officers with something that demonstrates your interests and strengths to help set you apart from the competition.
When you reach college, make sure to speak with your guidance counselor about your difficulties with choosing a major. You and your counselor can create a schedule that exposes you to a variety of subjects to help you identify a field of study before you reach your sophomore year.
What if I’m interested in multiple majors?
We recommend that students narrow down their potential fields of study to just one when attending college. That’s because the vast majority of students will end up graduating with a single major.
Splitting up your attention between more than one major could end up resulting in wasted time and money. It’s advisable to simply have secondary interests covered by your minor.
However, there are a small minority of students that graduate with a double major. As the name suggests, this simply means that a student received a major in two different programs.
Majors require significantly more courses than minors. That’s why students should be 100% positive that they want to pursue two different subjects. It’s a significant time dedication but it’s possible!
Improve your chances of getting into the school of your dreams!
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