Asian woman lying on brown leafy ground thinking, hair spiraling many directions

How to Pick a College Major: Narrowing Down a Big List

How do you get from having too many major options to finding your best fit? A college student offers his best advice as you search for a major and career path.

Choosing the right major is an important aspect of your college success, especially if you’re academically driven or a high achiever. Students who feel they had made the right choice regarding their major will usually gain more confidence and thrive throughout their college careers. Essentially, that’s the end goal for each student. However, you may find yourself in a position of uncertainty where you’re unsure which major to ultimately declare, with the burden of your decision pulling on your shoulders as a result. If this sounds familiar, don’t stress. That’s not only common but is often an indicator that you care about your future and use good judgement when it comes to important decision-making. So, how do we get from this point to the end goal of choosing a college major?

Cultivate a healthy perspective

Before we dive any deeper, let’s invalidate a common misconception current and prospective college students make when it comes to choosing a major: believing that unless you make a specific choice on day one, you have failed. Meaning, if you haven’t proudly announced to the whole world your chosen major prior to the first day of classes, then you’re automatically disadvantaged. Needless to say, this belief is flawed, and the reality is much more complex than you’d think.

A 2019 survey published by Ellucian found that less than half of students are “confident in their career path when they enroll in college,” with nearly two-thirds feeling “overwhelmed by the process of selecting a major.” Additionally, the survey found that “more than half of students change their major at least once,” with nearly 20% more than once. If this comes as a surprise, it shouldn’t; choosing the right major is not a simple task. Nevertheless, these results are not meant to intimidate, but to illuminate. Now that we got this out of the way, let’s move on to some practical solutions.

Related: Why Picking a Major Isn't the Same as Choosing a Career

Start wide with a general direction

In a nutshell, the most common (and realistic) way you can successfully navigate the process of choosing the right major—and ultimately, the right career path—is by a process of elimination: you have to try different things to figure out what you like and don’t like. That doesn’t mean you have to try every single thing in the world, because chances are you already have a general direction—a sense of what draws you in, an interest, a curiosity about something. But it does mean you’ll have to do some branching out within that general direction. Doing so will allow you to narrow down the scope of available options and slowly inch closer toward a more specific, unique-to-you major and/or career path.

Narrow down your general direction

Let’s assume your general direction involves a passion for reading, writing, and learning about the world. In that case, you might think of History, English, Journalism, or even Political Science as possible major options. After all, according to this criterion, there’s a good chance one of these fields is the right one for you. But here’s where the important part comes in. Besides reading and learning about the world, a History major, for example, involves a lot of writing and research. “Well, I like writing,” you might say, and that’s great! However, as you progress through your courses, you may become aware that history writing tends to lean more academic in style and is not the kind you had in mind when you first thought about it. In addition, you may find the research aspect of history is too overwhelming and perhaps a bit too tedious to your liking. In light of these new findings, you decide History isn’t the right major for you after all, and you decide to enroll in an English class.

As you attend this class, you learn very quickly that English doesn’t have much of an academic spin to it, or at least not in the same way History does, and you feel relieved. “English is going to be fun!” you tell yourself. After all, when we think of English, we think of all the great writers and the impact they made on the human condition—Shakespeare, Woolf, Twain, Hemingway, Didion, and Baldwin may come to mind. Nonetheless, as you take more English classes and begin working on various writing assignments, you may discover that your writing tendencies lean more nonfiction than fiction. This discovery catches you by surprise since you always thought fiction was your strong suit. Still, you decide the things you want to read and write about must involve an aspect of reality. You decide English, too, isn’t the right major for you, and you gear your energies next toward Journalism or Political Science.

Take note of your progress and keep going

Here’s the lesson to gain from these examples: Even though at first you might feel a sense of disappointment and perhaps even a bit frustration as you move through different majors without officially settling on one, in reality, you made invaluable progress. First, with just a handful of courses, you managed to eliminate two potential majors that you now know for certain are not for you. Second, you gleaned valuable lessons about yourself, both in terms of what you like and don’t like. In other words, you narrowed down the scope of available options, which therefore got you that much closer to the end goal.

Related: How to Choose a Major: With Your Head or Your Heart?

And that’s how it’s done! If you don’t want to settle on a college major you know isn’t the best fit for you, then you have to try different majors (within your general direction) because you don’t (and can’t) possibly know everything they involve before trying them. As you continue to repeat the steps outlined above, you’ll further narrow the scope of your options until you hit that soft spot where all your preferences, sacrifices, and the hard lessons you’ve learned come together to form your perfect major.

Conducting your major search and college search at the same time? Combine these tasks and save time by exploring our College Lists & Rankings by Major!

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

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
CollegeXpress Logo

$10,000

Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Khush

Khush

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress is a multi-maneuver platform that has been helping students in their college applications and scholarship hunt process. For me, CollegeXpress has been a boon. I've been able to find my dream university via CX, and I've also been able to apply to thousands of scholarships through it. All the thanks to CollegeXpress for doing such a great job for free. I express my sincere gratitude to you for doing such a wonderful job. I recommend CollegeXpress without any reservations.

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.

Ariyane

Ariyane

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress really helped me by letting me know the colleges ratings and placements. They gave me accurate information on my colleges tuition rates and acceptance. They even let me know the ration between students and faculty and the diversity of the college. Overall they told me everything I needed and things I didnt even think I needed to know about my college and other colleges I applied for.

Katie

Katie

High School Class of 2019

My favorite feature of CollegeXpress is the scholarship search. As someone going out of state for college, I needed all the financial help I could get, and CollegeXpress helped me easily find scholarships I could apply for to help fund my education.

Hannah Nelsen

Hannah Nelsen

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me look at colleges that fit my interests by taking my profile and matching it to colleges that have the programs I'm looking for. It has the ability to connect me to colleges so I can be contacted by them and look at them more in-depth to find what's right for me. Additionally, the scholarship database is super beneficial for getting scholarships for college. Not only does it help lift the financial burden of college but it shows all the opportunities available. Overall, CollegeXpress has been very helpful to me.

College Matches