When Is It Necessary to Declare a College Major?

One of the major hurdles facing incoming freshmen is the eternal question: “So, what’s YOUR major?” This question is asked not only by advisers and professors, but it becomes your introduction to meeting new people. Essentially, the unassuming freshmen is asked not only, “what do you want to do with your life?” but also, “Who are YOU? What kind of person ARE you?”

That’s a lot of pressure for anyone. Existential crisis aside, the question of WHEN a major should be declared is not always clear. Obviously it should be declared before one’s senior year, when graduation looms ahead. But how late is too late? And how soon is too soon? The answer to this question depends, ultimately, on you.Whatever camp you fall into, the sure or the unsure, there are a few things you should consider. If you aren’t sure yet, don’t worry: it’s not urgent to have it declared the first day of classes.


If you are one of the lucky few who know exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life, you should declare your major BEFORE the start of your freshmen year. Doing so will mean you can bypass the entrance requirements that other students must complete – applications, paperwork, essays, and so on. Declaring a major while still in high school, automatically enrolls you in the program, no questions asked, for many colleges and universities. It also gives you a head start on required courses and, of course, gives you a sense of identity and purpose for your time in college.


If you are not quite sure what you want to do for the rest of your life, that’s alright too: not many people really do when they graduate high school. And most will change career paths multiple times before retirement. So perhaps your indecision is not necessarily a bad thing: you just might need more time to weigh your options. As a general guideline, however, one should have a major declared by the end of his or her sophomore year. Most programs take approximately two years to complete, and this is after completing the necessary general education requirements needed to get in to upper-level classes. In this case a short delay can be a good thing: you can knock out most of your gen-eds your first two years, which you would probably do anyway, and spend your time during your junior and senior years focusing on your major courses.

This approach does have its drawbacks, however. The most important being, of course, knowing exactly WHAT general education classes to take. As an underclassman (or -woman), you have a plethora of options. Some will count as courses needed for your chosen program. Others will not. It would be a good idea to steer clear, for example, from Underwater Basketweaving 101 or, if you want to go into the sciences, a lot of courses in history or anthropology. These will probably not help you, and may end up making extra work for yourself near graduation.

For the student who is unsure about his or her future major, the best advice would be to narrow down your choices as soon as possible. Ideally to a single department. Do you have strong interests in science? Focus on science classes. You can always narrow it down to a specific science (physics, biology, etc.) later. Do you want to major in something related to writing? Focus on English classes. At least, in this case, your gen eds should count toward your future major, whatever it may be.


Here’s a look at “highest Paying College Majors“.