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Declaring a Major

By KSU Counseling Services Staff

Several years into a college curriculum, students are often expected (or required) to declare a major. This means applying to a particular department or college and stating a formal intention to take a particular course of study. The concept is that the first two years of college or university study are sufficient for exploring a range of subject areas and also gaining a deeper understanding of one's interests and skill sets.

The decision of declaring a major may rest solely with the student. Or this decision may be influenced by a variety of factors: parents and relatives' goals and opinions, friends' ideas, the influences of the job market, scholarships or financial aid or sponsorships of various companies, or transferability for further education or career paths.

What Declaring a Major Is and Isn't

Declaring a major is a big decision. It is a statement of intentions. It is an educational commitment. It involves a fair amount of bureaucratic work.

While it is a decision that may be reversible (people may change majors; they may add minors; they may have double or triple degrees), such decisions are expensive. Higher education itself is not a low-cost proposition, and courses taken to fulfill requirements for a particular degree will not necessarily apply to other degree fields. (Those who provide financial aid or scholarship or grant funds may have requirements about how students progress in their studies, too.)

Given the importance of this decision, learners are expected to do some "due diligence." This caution means sampling a variety of courses in the freshman and sophomore years—while being strategic about choosing courses that involve college credit (that meets particular requirements) and which transfer into a variety of degrees.

Many students go to the on-campus career / employment / academic advising offices to take assessments to find out more about themselves and their interests. It will be important to consult with a pre-major advisor to make sure that one's choices are aligned and that all t's are crossed and i's are dotted (as the saying goes). Declaring a major involves deadlines and academic requirements; it requires work at the various offices on a campus—so it takes time to get the pieces put together. Universities have to process transcripts and other elements in an application, so students need to make time to accommodate that.

Practical Considerations

It'll be critical to see what the job market may look like for the particular field. After all, getting a degree that does not lead to any particular vocation or career may lead to other challenges. Look also at how much support the college or university offers in terms of job placements and transfers. Some fields are in such high-demand that a good 99% of the students that graduate with a sufficient GPA will get a job; other fields are so lackluster that the school will not want to share their statistics about job placements. Virtually no universities will guarantee job placements, but many will share statistics about how their graduates do a few years out (after graduation).

It is important to explore a field of interest by talking to others in that field. It may help to engage in some field trips to learn more. Academic projects may be selected with a special focus on learning more about the career field. (Some term projects or academic papers may involve topics, which people may select). It may help to talk to hiring managers in the field to find out what employee features and backgrounds are desirable.

Advanced Education

For many students, they have ambitions to pursue further education after the baccalaureate degree. They may pursue a master's and even a doctorate degree. While declaring a major is about narrowing choices (from a wide potential range of degrees), it's also about opening up to other areas of study as well as career opportunities.

Students may have to strategize about what majors to pursue in order to position themselves for a competitive application into graduate school. For example, many heading to a particular field of study will have to choose the right courses, get the right letters of recommendation, have work experiences in the preferred fields, and fit particular profiles to be the most competitive.

Wide Academic Options

Undergraduate students who have wide interests may want to add a minor to their majors. There are certain windows of time when such declarations need to be made.

A minor involves fewer requirements than a whole secondary major, but they broaden a learner's base of study. Or they may choose multiple majors. Those with double or triple majors may have a minimum number of unique courses from each degree area of study. Majors that are unrelated will likely mean a greater time / course / energy investment, but those that are related may have courses that meet multiple pre-requisite requirements, which may save on learner time.

Students with special statuses (athletes, honors students, those on scholarships, TAs, GTAs, RAs, students on academic probation, international students, non-traditional students, military students, and others) will have unique requirements.

(Note: This is informational only and not any kind of advisement.)

© All staff articles are used by permission of the respective author(s). Copyright belongs to the University Life Café. No part of this may be used without authorization.

Declaring a Major (pdf)