Featured Image

The Who, What, How, and Why of Choosing a College Major

There's no special formula to choosing a major, but it helps to start by asking yourself a few questions--including who, what, how, and why.

I think I would be hard-pressed to identify someone who was never asked what they wanted to be when they grow up. Perhaps the question is not as intimidating at seven years old as it is when you are on the verge of graduating from high school—when it changes to, “What are you majoring in?” Some of us are lucky; we walk across the stage at our high school graduation with our heads held high, finding comfort in the knowledge that we know what we want to study and what path we want our lives to take. For others it is not that easy. But no one said it should be.

You are about to face (or are already facing) one of the biggest milestones in your academic career: choosing a major. It will determine the avenue you pursue in higher education and further specialize your skills in a specific area. Ultimately, it helps shape (although does not necessarily determine) your career path. With some universities often offering hundreds of majors and concentrations, how do you choose?

I will be upfront in saying that there is no special formula (trust me, I tried to find it). That is not to say, however, there are not some guidelines to help you along the way. On my own journey toward choosing a major, I found myself asking:

  1. Who/what do I want to help?
  2. How do I want to help?
  3. Why?

Without these questions, I found myself giving artificial answers and reasons why I wanted to major in Physics. But those questions kept me honest and helped illustrate to others (and myself) what I was truly passionate about. I fully recognize that these questions are not exhaustive and do not cover every possible major and career path, but it is a start.

I will demonstrate their use by using my own decision-making as an example.

  1. I want to help the environment and educate people about the environment. 
  2. I want to help the environment by educating future stewards of the Earth and by assisting the efforts to generate methods of efficient energy sources not dependent on fossil fuels.
  3. For as long as humans live on Earth, we will need people to study it to ensure that we can pass down the Earth we inherit to the next generation.

I used this thought process to conclude that I wanted to major in Geology and pursue a career in the geosciences. I had previously wanted to be a physicist, but for the wrong reasons: I wanted to prove to myself and others that I was intelligent and capable and nothing more. I would have hated being a physicist, and there is no amount of money that will make you enjoy doing a job you hate.

So my final advice to you: make sure you are pursuing a major and career for the right reasons—because you want to make an impact and you want to contribute in some way. 

Related: How to Choose Your Major (or Not)

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

choosing a major college majors how to choose a major majors

About Michael Tyler Kee

Tyler attends the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he majors in Geology and minors in Physics. An award-winning scientific writer and researcher, Tyler has experience both as a transfer student and as a student studying abroad. Besides his passion for writing and scientific inquiry, Michael enjoys traveling, hiking, swimming, and spending time with his family and friends. You can follow him on Twitter @TyTheScienceGuy.


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


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

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.

Wendy Thompson

Wendy Thompson

Owner, Westport Educational Consulting

I just discovered your site and LOVE it—fun, interesting, full of incredible information you can’t find anywhere else, and a godsend for those of us in the college counseling business. I am a fan!

Nikole Dixon

Nikole Dixon

$500 Refer-A-Friend Scholarship Winner

Towards the beginning of last year, I was searching for scholarships to apply to through my school, town, websites online, and anything else I could find. I asked tons of questions [online] about scholarships and the best places to find them because I was desperate and I needed as many as I could find. I came across a ton of bogus websites but as soon as I found CollegeXpress, I knew I had to tell other people about it. It was definitely the most helpful site I came across, so I told my friends about it. . . . CollegeXpress is definitely a website worth giving as a source.

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!

Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

College Matches