How to Choose a Major

Choosing a major is a complex decision. The suggestions below can help to clarify your thinking. Keep in mind that decision-making is a nonlinear process – expect to move back and forth among the suggested areas, or to work on several areas at the same time.

Seek New Perspectives on Yourself

A good way to begin is to investigate your interests. Think about the courses you've taken and activities you're involved in. What has made you curious? Energized you? Surprised you? On a blank sheet of paper, write these headings across the top of the page: Course, Hobby, Assignment/Project, Experience, Activity. Below each heading, jot down one example from your own experience that you enjoyed. Think about these for a minute. Now in each column, as specifically as possible add what it was about each of your examples you really liked. Looking at your answers, how would you describe yourself? What are the things you really care about?

  • Ask faculty members, your pre-major advisor, professionals, peer students, friends, and family about your strengths and values. Often people who know or work with you can offer useful insights.
  • Check out the self-assessment tools and programs offered through the Career Center and Counseling Center.
Investigate Potential Majors

Taking courses across a wide range of departments and programs will give you a sense of what interests you (or not so much) and how you relate to the various academic disciplines. But what is it like to major in an area that seems appealing? Here are the top questions our faculty recommend you investigate:

  • How do faculty in this department/program mentor and support students?
  • What skills or aptitudes will I need to complete this major successfully?
  • Will this major allow me to ... study abroad? do lab research? do field research? what else?
  • How can I connect my studies in this major to my life/work outside the classroom? Examples?
  • I'm interested in developing my ... [problem-solving, communications, reasoning, performance, other] skills. Will I have a chance to develop these in this major?

Review the websites of candidate departments and programs. Stop by the department or program office for the major and ask for any additional information they've prepared. Talk with junior or senior students in the major to learn about their experiences.

Keep an eye out for workshops, information sessions, and open houses. Attending one of these events and getting answers to your questions will lead to more informed decisions.

Look Ahead to Possible Careers or Graduate School

Talk to faculty in the major you're considering. They are knowledgeable about graduate programs in their field and can advise you on the kinds of careers that require a graduate degree. If you have a particular career in mind, ask if they know any former students who are doing that kind of work, or if they know about internships or opportunities related to that kind of work.

Some other ideas:

  • Advisors in the Career Center can offer insights into how majors can map to careers. The research librarians at Swem can help you plan your research and find useful information.
  • Pre-professional program advisors can orient you to the sequences of courses that prepare you for further study in various professions.
  • Reach out to alumni who have your dream job or who work with other people who do. What majors did they have?
  • Attend Employer Information Sessions. These are a good way to talk to employers directly and find out what kinds of majors they've hired in the past.
  • Play around with William & Mary Student Outcomes. This site provides information obtained from senior surveys for the past four years.
Eliminate Options

As you continue exploring, evaluating, and refining your interests, you'll find yourself moving away from some options and toward some others. Ideally you'll reach a point where just one or two potential majors feel like a good fit. At some point you might consider:

  • If you find that you cannot choose between two majors, could one be a major and the other a minor?
  • If you find that the topic you want to study overlaps several majors, look into creating your own interdisciplinary major.
Update Your Planning

Since your first semester, you've been planning which courses to take and how to complete various requirements. Now's a good time to assess how the courses you've already taken match up with your candidate majors. Print an Academic Planner [pdf] and sketch out what your next few semesters might look like if you went ahead with a particular major.

You can also plan specific actions you'll take to accomplish your goals. With this major, what actions make sense after the junior year? What do you want to be doing in the months after graduation, and what actions can you take now to make sure that happens?

Review Your Decision

Once you've decided on a major, you might take some time to mull it over before you actually declare. Does it feel like the right way to focus your bachelor's degree? Does it set you on a path to the kind of future you've imagined for yourself?