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
Emilie Delgado

Emilie Delgado

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2013

CollegeXpress has tremendously helped me in my search for financial aid opportunities as I enter my college career. It is easy to navigate and quickly narrowed down scholarships that I could apply for. Being awarded the scholarship will greatly help me in my finances regarding books and tuition. Thank you for this opportunity. Without CollegeXpress, it would have been more difficult to apply. I would recommend this site to everyone!

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.

Sadie Hartmann

Sadie Hartmann

High School Class of 2021

I'm a senior in high school, and CollegeXpress has helped me in so many ways this year in trying to navigate the process of deciding and committing to a university. The COVID-19 Student Resource Center has helped me many times with the most up-to-date and accurate information, along with financial aid and student life [advice]. During these uncertain times, CollegeXpress has been a great recourse to relieve the stress as a senior. Along with the COVID-19 Student Resource Center, I'm constantly using the extremely helpful tools off the site to aid me during this stressful process. Tools like the lists and rankings of universities have been the most beneficial. I've also used the site to receive expert advice on topics like financial aid. Finally, CollegeXpress has helped me easily apply for several scholarships. I'm thankful to be given the chance to win a scholarship to lessen the burden of my college debt.

Hailey Riddile

Hailey Riddile

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships to apply for and look into more colleges. While there are many websites similar to CollegeXpress, every website is different, and I've found a lot of good insight on this website. Receiving emails from CollegeXpress about scholarships is extremely useful, and getting insight about colleges near, far, and anywhere in between helps me narrow down my choices to what I want, which is also super helpful. The articles are always really good reads, and I can't stress enough how helpful this website has been to me. Anything related to college is beneficial to me as a senior, and I have learned lots of useful things to help me on my college journey this year.

Melanie Kajy

Melanie Kajy

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously during my senior year of high school. I started off using the college search to find more information about the universities I was interested in. Just this tool alone gave me so much information about a particular school. It was my one-stop shop to learn about college. I was able to find information about college tuition, school rank, majors, and so much more that I can't list it all. The college search tool has helped me narrow down which college I want to attend, and it made a stressful process surprisingly not so stressful. I then moved to the scholarship search tool to find scholarships to apply for because I can't afford to pay for tuition myself. The search tool helped me find scholarships that I was eligible for. The tool gave me all the information I could ever need about a particular scholarship that was being offered. The CollegeXpress scholarship search tool is so much better than other tools offered, like the Chegg scholarship search. Thanks to CollegeXpress, I was able to apply to tons of scholarships in a relatively easy way!

College Matches