How to choose a college major for your college application
It’s one of the biggest questions students are faced with when they first step onto campus: what are they going t major in? All colleges offer a wide variety of majors, from art history to mechanical engineering; some even allow you to create your own major! It’s a hard decision to make due to the sheer variety of options, but also due to the impact your major will likely have on your academic life in college and your career after college. For these reasons, it's an important decision as much as it is a hard one. Luckily, we have some advice for how a student can go about choosing their major.
What you want to consider when picking a major
1. Your interests
The process of picking a major starts early on, and it depends largely on what you’re interested in. If from high school, you’ve realized you have a great interest in history, it’s going to be a good idea to take a couple of intro history classes your first semester and see how you like it in college. If in freshman year, you’re completely undecided on what you want to study, it’s recommended to take a variety of classes so that you have exposure to multiple areas. This way, you can begin to explore and test your interests in various subjects.
It’s important that what you study is also what you’re interested in. You’re going to spend the next four years exploring this particular topic, and you want these four years to be enjoyable. The only way that’s possible is if you’re invested and passionate about what you study.
For each potential major you may pick, you want to consider how it fits with who you are. Take a look at the course load and requirements for the majors you’re interested in: are these classes that you’d be interested in taking? Are you looking for a rigorous program or a laid-back one, and how does this program match up? Are the skillsets required for this major something you have or would be eager to develop?
3. Potential career opportunities
The career that your major will help you enter into is also an important consideration. In university, it is essential that you think of your future. You want to think about not only your interests and fit in college, but also your interests and fit in a later career. We recommend that you do some research: find out what people who major in this field often go into after college and ask yourself, can I see myself doing this? Would this interest me and would I fit into that working lifestyle?
Oftentimes, studying something in a particular field is different from working in that field. For example, you could major in English; possible career opportunities related to an English major might include editing, publishing, teaching, or becoming an author yourself. While you will certainly use the skills you learned from your four-year studies, the day-to-day in your working life will be very different from your college one. Make sure you familiarize yourself with what the potential career paths that come with the major will be and whether or not you are comfortable with what they will entail.
When you have an idea of what you want to major in, or are choosing between a couple of options, here are the steps to take to finalize your decision:
1. Talk to people currently studying that field
You want to have a good idea of what your life will look like once you choose your major. In order to do that, you’ll want to reach out to other students at your school who have been in this major program for at least a year. You can have a conversation with them and learn about what their classes look like, what they enjoy about their classes, what their professors are like, how many hours they put into school work a week. This will give you a great idea of what to expect for the near future, if you like the sound of it or not, and how to prepare for it.
2. Talk to people working in that field
Again, you also want to be thinking about life outside of college. Just like you’d talk to people in your major currently, you might also want to talk to people who studied what you studied and are now working in that job market. What’s their job like? Do you think you’d enjoy it? How much of what they learned is applied to their everyday work? Would they recommend studying Major X? These people have lived through college and after it; in looking back, they’ll be able to give honest, holistic opinions about their experience, which will then inform yours. You might be able to find people to talk to through your school’s Linkedin Page, or alumni directory.
3. Talk to your academic advisor
You also want to talk to your academic advisor. This is an adult employed by your school to help newcomers navigate school life, including academic decisions. Their job is to know the requirements of each program inside and out; they’ll be able to talk to you about deadlines, requirements, and what a potential course plan will look like. They will also tell you about the declaration process: when the deadline is, what it entails, etc. You might also ask them about how binding your decision is, and how hard it is to switch majors, just in case. You’ll get a great idea of what the next four years will look like.
Tips for choosing a major
1. Have deadlines in mind
Make sure you know when your school’s deadline for choosing a major is and plan out a timeline for your selection process accordingly. You’ll also want to investigate the school’s required courses so you can start to think ahead in terms of course load and requirements. This will help your future self out a lot!
2. Talk to friends and family
Although your friends and family might not know the technicalities of choosing a major, they likely know you as a person. They know that it’s a difficult process and can provide support all throughout the process. The people who care about you are likely a great resource for insight and advise you on whether or not they feel like this is a good decision, based on what they know about you, your habits, and your interests.
3. Be open to exploration
Even when you’ve chosen a major, you’re totally free to take classes on the side completely unrelated to that major. You might find out that this extra class was super interesting and you want to pursue more classes in that field, maybe get a minor, maybe even change your major! You never know what the future has in store for you and you always want to be open to change. Your school offers so many classes and so many different topics: take advantage of that!
Know that changing your major is always an option, although you’ll want to check those policies for your specific school. For many schools, the process is easy and just involves a new declaration and a different course load. But again, if you ever choose to change your major you still want to think about everything we’ve listed in this article!
4. Start early
If you’re in high school, the best way to explore your area of interest is to actually do something inside that field! One way to do that is through research. You might look into various research and mentorship programs, such as Lumiere and Veritas AI.
Founded by Harvard and Oxford researchers, Lumiere offers its own structured research programs in which ambitious high school students work 1-1 with top PhDs and develop and independent research paper. The program is fully virtual!
Also check out the Lumiere Research inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.
A fully virtual program founded by Harvard graduates, Veritas AI offers ambitious high school students the opportunity to create a novel AI project with a mentor over 12-15 weeks.
These are fantastic examples of selective yet accessible research programs. Check them out!
Choosing your college major is an important process. It influences both your academic, personal, and professional life; you don’t want to pick randomly! You really want to consider all potential factors and have a clear vision in terms of deadlines, requirements, timeline, etc. We hope we’ve put together a helpful guide for you—know that while it’s a big decision, it doesn’t have to be a scary one. What’s ultimately most important is that you choose what’s best for you, and what really resonates with your passions, your goals, and your life.
Amelia is a current junior at Harvard College studying art history with a minor in economics. She’s enthusiastic about music, movies, and writing, and is excited to help Lumiere’s students as much as she can!