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Should You Choose a Major Before Choosing a College?

July 13, 2009 By: Category: Best College Tips, Choosing a College

It’s true that many students change their major several times before graduating. So why do so many experts advise you to to compare the quality of your intended major when it comes to choosing a college?

Here’s a look at why choosing a major before freshman year might actually matter-and why it might not.

photo by Jonathan Ng

The major you choose can affect your admissions chances. At some universities, high school course  admissions requirements for certain majors vary. Northwestern University recommends engineering hopefuls take one or two more years of science in high school than College of Arts and Sciences applicants, preferably including chemistry and physics. The sooner you plan ahead, the sooner you can prepare yourself.

However, though the myth seems to bubble up more when that senior year indecision freakout rolls around, declaring a less popular major does not always boost admissions chances. In reality, this strategy mainly impacts borderline situations, and it’ll be obvious if your application doesn’t show a real interest in EcoGastronomy-or Drama, for that matter.

Popular major or not, choosing your major early can save you time. In many colleges and programs, students jump into their major courses the first term of freshman year, particularly in more rigorous programs such as engineering. If you miss out on these courses, it could take longer to graduate.

Choosing your major early on can also make it easier to schedule classes. This especially comes in handy if you go to a small school or declare a less popular major and some of your required courses are only offered, say, once a year or every other year.

Be careful to avoid choosing a school just to chase a major. I’m betting many of you don’t have a good grasp on what it really means to study EcoGastronomy, or even Sociology, and while that may sound appealing now, most students change their major at least twice throughout the course of their college career. Putting your entire college career on those stakes may not be the best idea.

Besides that, the path to that dream career isn’t always as obvious as you think. About 25% of med school students major in humanities like philosophy and English, not physical science, for their undergrad. Similarly, you can still build up journalism experience through campus press or internships, and you can mix and match business classes if you can’t major in Entrepreneurship. Consider: Is it practical to get experience in one field and choose another major to complement it? Could you minor or take a few essential courses in that field if you decide not to major in it?

Whatever happens, the good news is you can escape. At most colleges, changing your major is not subject to penalty of death. It might cause a few delays or complicate your schedule, but what’s life without an adventure through the scenic route? Not all of your required credits will pertain to your major, and at many liberal arts schools, your major might make up as little as a third of your graduation requirements.

But the most important thing you should be asking yourself is this: Are you passionate?

You shouldn’t feel bullied into choosing a major right away. College is a very expensive and consuming four years to hate, and it’s better to spend time trying to find the best fit for you than to hastily pick the major that sounds like it’ll rake in the highest salary. Try to remember your experiences that were most fulfilling in high school, and even the activities you were drawn to as a child. And when it comes to choosing a school, look at the school’s overall academic quality throughout all of its programs (as well as the many other factors), rather than zeroing in on one major.

College and post-college readers, what are your thoughts? How many times did you end up changing your major?