If you don’t already know, your major is the area of knowledge you want to study in college. Usually a major program takes up a third to a half of your classes, with the rest being general education requirements and electives. Every college and university is going to have a variety of majors for you to choose from, and they should be listed on that school’s website.
It is not vital to know your major before you apply. Unless you are going into engineering, nursing, or another highly-specified field, you usually do not have to choose a major until the end of your second year in college. In fact, most students change their major at least once before they graduate. However, it is a good idea to know what general area you would like to study. Maybe you’re not sure if you want to major in English or Political Science, but you know you want to study the humanities. Or maybe you can’t decide between Environmental Science and Biology, but you know you would like to study science. These are important things to keep in mind when researching individual schools.
Most students take on only one major, but some take on two or even three. Double-majoring tends to increase a student’s workload and reduce the amount of electives they can take. That said, taking two majors can be a rewarding experience if you truly enjoy both fields of study, and can expand your opportunities after graduation.
Besides majors, there are two other main types of undergraduate degree programs: minors and pre-professional tracks. Students can take, or not take, one or two minors or pre-professional tracks — but they must also have a major. A minor is a shortened version of a major. For example, a minor program in Political Science might require you take six classes, while a major program would require 12. A pre-professional track is similar to a minor, but it prepares you for future study. The most popular pre-professional tracks are pre-med, pre-law, and pre-business. Tracks are a series of classes that you are required to take as an undergraduate before you apply to post-graduate schools such as medical schools, law schools, and business schools. The class requirements are the same at every school. For example, the pre-med track is an 8-class series including Chemistry, Calculus, Biology, and Physics.
If you are certain of what major you’d like to pursue, it’s a good idea to know which schools are known for having strong programs in your major. Try some Google searches like, “Which colleges have the best biology programs?” or “Which California universities have the best biology programs?” That should give you some idea of what you should be looking for. Also, if you have a particular pre-professional track in mind, check to make sure it is offered at the schools you are applying to. It’s usually not mandatory to, for example, take a pre-law track if you plan to go to law school, but it is a good idea to do so.
When researching majors on a college’s website, remember that names often vary from school to school. One school may have a major in Journalism, while another school has a major called “Communications, concentration in Journalism.”
The most important thing to keep in mind when considering your major is flexibility. Students who graduate with the major they applied as are in the minority among college graduates. It’s best to have a few possible majors and minors in mind, and plan to explore them in your freshman year classes.