"What Should I Major In?"
A Professor's Advice on What Major You Should Choose in College

Michael D. Breidenbach

As a professor, I am often asked how to choose a major in college. Choosing a major in college can be daunting, not least because the tiresome question, "What are you majoring in?" is a constant refrain from family and friends. You may even be asking yourself whether it matters what you major in. Below is a list of practical tips for how to choose a major in college.

  1. Your major and your future occupation are not necessarily identical. Nursing majors become nurses, but most philosophy majors will not become philosophers. Liberal arts majors have the freedom to choose an occupation beyond their major’s subject matter.

  2. “What are you going to do with that?” is a badly posed question. If someone asks you what you are going to “do” with your study of literature, they simply don’t understand the purpose of studying literature. You may respond by simply quoting C.S. Lewis: “If you don’t read good books, you will read bad ones.”

  3. Basing your major off of the average financial prospects of those who have graduated in your major is chimerical. There are far more important factors to your personal financial success than the major you choose. Here are a few: your spouse; your personality; your network; whether you negotiate your compensation, especially early in your career; how much debt you have; where you live; how healthy you are; and how lucky you are.

  4. No one will ask you what you majored in 5 years after you graduate. In fact, no one will care (and few will blame you for) what you do until you are at least 25 years old. People who still talk about their major in college are often frustrated would-be graduate students.

  5. Choose a major in a department or program that attracts the best professors. By selecting a major, you are selecting a group of people who will be your primary instructors and mentors. You will begin to think, act, and talk like them. You may even dream about them. If you don’t like them, you probably will end up not liking yourself. This is the closest thing to choosing your parents.

  6. Choosing a major is your choice, and no one else’s. You have to live with the decision, so you should own it, even if you are not paying the tab.

  7. Seek advice from a variety of sources (beyond this one). Weigh the advice you receive and do not feel pressured into taking anyone’s suggestions (including these).

  8. Majors are not trophies; having more of them does not make you better. Everyone needs to graduate with the same number of credit hours, so double (or triple!) majoring and minoring simply narrows your possibilities and therefore gives you less freedom to choose the classes with the best professors. Let double majoring be the effect, not the cause, of your judicious selections of professors.

  9. A four-year college education allows for leisure unknown anywhere else in adulthood (unless you are independently wealthy or a professor). If you choose a pre-professional or professional major, also be sure to take classes that are not valued strictly for their future workaday utility. This may be your last chance.

  10. If you are concerned about what you are going to do after you graduate, then spend less time thinking about your major and more time planning how you are going to land your first internship and job.

© Michael D. Breidenbach 2017-2019