Young man in black T-shirt standing between bookshelves with books behind him

Picking the Right Major: How Close is Close Enough?

How close is close enough when it comes to choosing a major which will accomplish your necessary career preparedness? Find out from a college admission insider.

As you begin (or get more immersed in) your college search process, inevitably a topic you’re sure to deal with consistently is: “What do I want to study/major in?” This question is at the forefront of how many admission offices and high school counselors begin to initially explore “fit” for you. The question starts out quite general: “What do you like to study?” But, as many of you know already, the questions become far more direct and specific in a hurry. Answer “science” and you’re sure to be asked, “What kind of science? Biology? Chemistry? Physics?” and so on. Answer “biology” and you’re sure to be asked, “Do you like plants? Environmental science? Maybe you want to be a doctor? Are you looking into pre-med? Oooh! Oooh! Do you like animals? Maybe veterinary sciences?” You get the gist.

As institutions have worked to meet the challenges of increasingly narrower career fields, college majors have begun to take on increasingly more-specific names to serve these niches. In the locker room before your upcoming basketball game, as you’re having both ankles taped, you may realize, “I might be interested in being this person for a professional basketball team someday.” So how do you identify what degree prepared the trainer for that position? Depending on the school, you may be looking for athletic training, exercise science, movement science, kinesiology, physical therapy, etc. The list goes on and on.

Exploring the differences between related college majors

How close is close enough when it comes to choosing a college major which will accomplish your necessary career preparedness? Is there a large difference between "kinesiology" and "movement science"? Why do some schools offer three or four of these majors separately? I field these questions constantly from students and families investigating their academic options. This can be a frustrating part of the search process. If your cousin works for a newspaper designing their graphics and went to school for "graphic design," do you eliminate every school you see that doesn’t list "graphic design" as a major? What if a school houses "graphic design" under "communications"? Or "art"? Is "visual arts” the same as “graphic design,” or is it a completely separate program and career field?

Have questions? Just ask!

There’s no easy way to decipher this; it requires you to ask the right questions to the right people. If you don’t see a major you’re interested in studying listed on a school’s website, ask if it has a different program title. Many institutions offer very similar programs of study even if they aren’t always “housed” under the same academic department. When inquiring about whether or not an institution has the specific program of study you need for a particular career path, consider these options:

  • Ask for the opportunity to speak to a faculty member in the program.
  • Ask about the courses offered, if the program prepares students to get into your desired career path, and if there are relevant internships, observation hours, and/or hands-on experiences already in-place for students to increase their marketability.
  • Ask admission representatives (or career services representatives when available) if there are recent graduates who have landed a similar job to the one you’re interested in.
  • Ask individuals who are already in the career you’re interested in what they had to do get into the field.

Learning the prerequisites and requirements for your potential career path is a great way to identify if the programs you’re considering—regardless of the names—are the right fit for your career goals.

Related: Smart Questions to Ask Before, During, and After Your College Visit

As with many aspects of the college search process, it also never hurts to do some online research. Using search engines to find similar names for a degree program or to research the requirements to become a professional in a given career field can help guide your path. The more research you can do ahead of time (whether that be conversations with individuals in the profession, online research, job shadowing, etc.), the better understanding you’ll have of what academic background you need to accomplish your professional goals. With that knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to decipher what academic programs are right for you.

For more tips on finding the right learning path for you, visit our Majors and Academics section!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Jessee Sandlin

Jessee Sandlin is a marketing and communication specialist, as well as a former associate director of admission at a Christian college in Kentucky. Considered by many friends, family members, and coworkers alike as an insatiable investigator, Jessee has devoted his professional career (and much of his personal life) to furthering the availability of higher education choices to students.

When Jessee is not poring over trends in enrollment management, meeting with students considering their college options, or traveling to various conferences and college fairs, he is spending time with his lovely wife, Holly. They share numerous passions and might be found exploring new local restaurants, engaging in home improvement projects, or visiting with family and friends.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Heather McCarty

Heather McCarty

High School Class of 2020

CollegeXpress has helped me with the college application process. The tips and tricks for important essays were so helpful. I also gained useful knowledge about college life. Even though I’m fully online, CollegeXpress has helped me develop a sense of how college is in person. The experiences from college students that were featured on their Instagram page have shown the good, the bad, and the “secret” life on campus from a reliable perspective. Not to mention, they relieved my feelings of anxiety about the workload. I can now understand how it can be stressful, but it takes self-control and willpower to get assignments completed on time and with quality.

Mataya Mann

Mataya Mann

High School Class of 2022

To say that CollegeXpress is a helpful tool would be an understatement as it is much more than that. Before finding CollegeXpress, all I knew was that I wanted to go to college, it was going to be insanely expensive, and I felt lost. CollegeXpress has given me access to resources such as helpful tips for applications and scholarship [opportunities], and helped guide me in a direction where I feel confident moving forward and pursuing a career. CollegeXpress has helped instill a spark in me that makes me want to continue and supports me in doing so.

Rana Slosberg

Rana Slosberg

Slosberg College Solutions LLC

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is the 800+ lists which have all kinds of hard-to-find information. These lists are helpful when I’m creating college lists, and I also use them to give students a feel for a particular college or university.

Carlie Cadet

Carlie Cadet

High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me learn about an abundance of scholarships available to me and my situation. I was able to do research for colleges in my best interest with your website. I've had multiple colleges email me and offer me multiple scholarships and things of that nature because of this website! Thank you so much for uploading scholarships I didn’t even know existed, even if my life took a huge turn and I wasn’t able to go to college straight out of high school. CollegeXpress helped me a lot in high school to be even more motivated to get into my dream college (which I did, by the way). I'm looking forward to using the materials CollegeXpress has kindly provided me for free to look for scholarships to help pay for college.

Maurice Whan

Maurice Whan

$2,000 Spring Scholarship Contest Winner, 2021

This year has been tough for my family and myself, so receiving this scholarship has been a blessing in disguise! CollegeXpress has been an excellent resource in helping me prepare financially for college. Thank you again for this amazing opportunity!

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, CO