Choosing a Major

There are many steps to choosing your major—and getting accepted.  See your advisor regularly to learn the necessary steps and make sure you’re on track—it’s not the same for every major.  (More about how to pick your major below.)

When do I declare a major?

Any time through the end of your sophomore year, though for some majors it’s important to declare sooner.  You won’t know all of your requirements until you’ve decided on a major and been accepted, so it’s important to declare a major before you’re a junior to make sure you can graduate on time.  You are given 10 semesters to graduate (this includes work done elsewhere).  The more you want to do, the more you need to plan. 

I’m not sure what I want to major in, so I’d just rather work on my GenEds.This graphic is a representation of all of the requirements you will need to graduate

As long as you are uncertain of you major, deliberate major exploration is the priority, not finishing your GenEds.  There is a time-line to declaring your major, you GenEds just need to be done by the time you graduate. 

This graphic is a representation of all of the requirements you will need to graduate, see an advisor for more details about each level of requirements.  There are many optional things, too, such as honors, a minor, or a certificate.  But figuring out your major is the first step. 

How do I declare a major?

Ultimately, by meeting with someone in the department who can change your major (usually an advisor).  However, there are 2 basic categories of majors, restricted and unrestricted

Unrestricted majors usually just require a meeting to process a change of major for a student; often they want to do an advising appointment as part of the process to get you started in the major. 

Restricted majors have some sort of application process you have to go through to apply.  Restrictions vary a lot!  For some, you may not be competing against other students, but still have to meet certain standards as part of the application process (fill out an application, get a C-‘s or higher in all of the predictors, have a 2.0 GPA).  A competitive major is a type of restricted major that doesn’t guarantee admission.  Anyone pursuing a restricted major must have a back-up plan (Plan B) for a major that isn’t restricted; an advisor can help you determine if your back-up plan is appropriate given your GPA.  Some majors may have deadlines, beyond which you can’t declare the major. 

When do I declare a back-up plan (Plan B) major?

If you have applied to a major and have to wait for grades to come out for your top choice major, you should plan to declare your back-up plan before those grades come out, ideally before you pick courses for the upcoming semester.  You want to put your Plan B major in place first, to give you the best access to courses.  You can always change your major and adjust your schedule if you get into your top choice major, but waiting to declare puts you at risk for not getting courses in your back-up major. 

Does my Plan B major need to closely relate to my top choice major?

No.  Sometimes there’s a major with closely related content that makes sense, but in terms of careers, there are usually many options (more on that later). 

How do these issues apply to transfer students?

Once you are enrolled at UMass, you will be held to the same standards.  So, if you spent a year at another school, you have one more year to declare a major, and that time counts towards your 10 semesters.  Your GPA doesn’t transfers, however a major may, at their discretion, choose to factor in performance at your other institution when applying to a major here. 

How can an advisor help me with the major exploration process? 

Advisors can:

  • help you select courses to explore different majors, and make sure you’re on track with other requirements
  • inform you of procedures, deadlines, etc.
  • let you know if you need a back-up plan (Plan B), and help you explore those options
  • help you weigh your options if you’re having a hard time deciding
  • help you consider other options to round out your degrees, such as a minor or certificate. 
  • help you explore extra-curricular options such a student organizations, internships, 5 College Interchange, international or domestic exchange, etc. 

So now, the really big question:  How do I pick my major?

Pick a major based on what you do well in and find interesting to learn—don’t pick a major because you think it’s the “right” major.  You will need to learn about majors (more below) and also do some self-reflection—Interests, values, personal qualities, strengths, and skills. 

Most people don’t go on to have careers directly related to the content of their major. THAT’S OK!  A major does not equal a career.  The purpose of an undergraduate degree is to give you a well-rounded education that will prepare you to do many things and to give you the skills for life-long learning (vocational or technical training is to prepare you for a specific career). 

But I’m worried about career options.

Getting stuck on the idea of a career often leaves students feeling stuck about what to major in, mostly because they think there’s only one right major for the career they want.  Except for highly technical fields and for careers which require certification, licensure, or accreditation (e.g. engineering, nursing), there is generally no one path to any given career, including business.  What is important is that you pick a major that is well-suited to you in terms of abilities and interests.  You want to do well at whatever you do; your grades will be important to your first employers and to graduate schools.  What will set you apart from other students when looking for your first job is an internship or other work-related experience.  Skills are transferable to many work environments and are often the focus of job descriptions.  You need to show a potential employer that you are hard-working, smart, flexible, and willing to learn.  Talk to a career counselor to start the conversation about careers—don’t wait until your senior year!  Exploring Your Options is a great place to start your online research to learn about the connections between majors and careers.  You can even connect with alumni via the Alumni Advisor Network and learn how they connected their majors to their careers.

Can I really major in something other than business to go into business?  Everyone says I should major in business.

You absolutely can major in something else.  Businesses hire you for you unique skills and experiences, they don’t want all of their employees to have the same degree.  Many people think the idea of “business” is secure, but it often just leaves students feeling stuck.  If you think of yourself as a business person, you can still be one, you just need to figure out what major is the best fit for you.  Business is a very broad field and there are many other majors that will give you the same career options as well.  Go to the SBS Career Explorer tool and explore the business categories. 

Remember, there are ways to get business experience without being a “business” majors—clubs, organizations, internships, etc.

How do I learn about majors?

  • Take classes!  This is the most important thing to do. 
  • Talk to your instructors to learn more about the major and the department.
  • Talk to other students about their experiences in the department. 
  • Talk to your advisor or a departmental advisor.
  • Look at their websites.

Final Thoughts

Figuring out your major, for most students, is a process, but you don’t have to do it alone.  Talk to advisors, instructors, and do your research—the right major is out there for you!

Adapted from the 2014 Oasis First-Year Seminar text from Undergraduate Advising, UMass Amherst.