Choosing a Major: Where to Start


Many students apply to college with a major or area of study in mind, but it can be a daunting task. Before you decide what you want to spend the next four years, or more, studying, let’s explore the basics. What is a major? What’s a minor? How do you know what they require, or don’t? Here are some things to keep in mind as you build your school list, research colleges and make decisions later down the line. Here’s the difference between a major and minor:

Major: A college major focuses your courses on a specific subject and determines which courses you’ll take throughout your college career. For example, if you major in English, the majority of your courses will fulfill the requirements set by the English department, but you’ll still be required by the university to take general education requirements, which will fall under different departments. All this means is that you’ll get to study lots of subjects while you’re in college, but you get to focus in on much more than you could in high school.

Minor: A minor is another focus that you take fewer courses in than a major, but more than your general education requirements. Often a minor will require about half the courses required for the major, but each department is different, so always check the school’s website or check with your admissions counselor. Sometimes schools will have minors for smaller departments or areas of study that don’t offer as many courses as a major field of study might, but you can still focus your attention on the subject of your choice.

Department: The department houses individual majors, and might encompass a wide variety of majors. For example, a Business department might house the Accounting, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Sustainability and Business, and Finance majors, which have distinct requirements and courses, but might share professors, administrators or core requirements. Check out each department’s website for a full picture of course offerings, department values, and funding.

Pre-professional programs: A pre-professional program helps fast track you to a professional school after you graduate with a bachelor's degree. Pre-health, pre-law and pre-education are usually umbrella terms that help students more easily apply to and qualify for professional degrees like law school or medical school after graduation. They might help you find an academic advisor with specific experience in your future chosen field, or categorize your courses, but aren’t always majors. Some colleges do offer pre-professional majors, but always check with each of your schools!

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Plan ahead. Planning ahead doesn’t always mean choosing and sticking to a major early on, but there are certain tracks that are harder to switch into later without losing credits or time. For example, a pre-med or pre-engineering track prepares you for your degree in that field, but might be harder to get into without taking the prerequisites ahead of time, or tailoring your schedule to stricter parameters. Always start in the most rigorous program and switch out if you need to; it’s often far harder to opt in than it is to opt out.
  • You have options. Every college offers a different array of major/minor options, with “tracks” or “concentrations” or none, depending on the school. A major itself is the field of study or department that you go into. If you want to be in the health field, this might be as straightforward as choosing to be a Biology major, or as specific as Pre-Healthcare Professional major. It’s key that you research what your major options are ahead of applying, so that you know the school you’ll end up attending has the courses and requirements that you want to take. We recommend you check out the course catalog and department pages to determine what you’ll be required to take, and what you’ll get to explore through the major or concentration.
  • Some schools encourage cross-disciplinary study and others don’t. Know which you prefer. If you want to dabble in linguistics, chemistry and dance simultaneously, you might not want to commit to a program that doesn’t allow you to take many courses outside your major. Departments will list their credit requirements up front, so it might take a little math, but you can determine ahead of time how much wiggle room you have, and whether you’ll have time for that fencing course or pairing your art history with some organic chemistry.



Don’t stress! You’re going to find the area (or areas) of study that you’re interested in, that you can’t get enough of, and then you’ll be ready to buckle down, hit the books, and come out a graduate with a degree in ______. You have at least a year before deciding on a major at most schools, and if you need more advice, contact Hughes College Prep to talk it out and make a game plan with an advisor today.