Closeup of green and red pen crossing off and checking boxes on paper

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 student offers his best advice on searching 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 have 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 judgment 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 toward 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 of 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 paths (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 sweet spot where all your preferences, sacrifices, and hard lessons 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
Brooke Maggio

Brooke Maggio

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously in my college search in narrowing down the schools I’m interested in. Using the college search tool, I was able to narrow down my choices to schools that matched what I was looking for. I also used CollegeXpress for their scholarship search, which helped me find scholarships that I meet the requirements of.

Ana Sophia Garcia-Cubas Assemat

Ana Sophia Garcia-Cubas Assemat

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2020

CollegeXpress has been an instrumental resource for my scholarship search and has given me the opportunity to try my best so I can graduate from college debt-free.

Josiah Kegg

Josiah Kegg

High School Class of 2021

I want to sincerely thank you all for this amazing website that's legitimately helped me find so many different scholarship opportunities. I've been stressing out for the longest time about paying for college since I would rather stay out of debt and have been working days trying to find any scholarship opportunity. When I found CollegeXpress, I discovered many easy scholarships that have given me hope for the future. Thank you and God bless!

Kamal

Kamal

Student, University of the People

I registered with CollegeXpress and filled all my necessary and relevant information as well as the course I wished to study. A few days later, an email was sent to me with a list of schools offering the course; amongst them was the University of the People, the school I got admitted to.

Ruth Aguilar

Ruth Aguilar

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me by providing me with many scholarship opportunities and information about universities I want to attend. What I love about CollgeXpress is how it provides a variety of information, and as the first child attending a university next year, it has been very essential and helpful. I’m so grateful for this because the information provided by CollegeXpress has also helped me see that there are so many college opportunities, and it always informs me by email. In other words, CollegeXpress has been like a guide for me as a future college student.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Evangel University

Springfield, MO

Gonzaga University

Spokane, WA

Samford University

Birmingham, AL