When Do I Need to Choose a Major?

Don't feel that you need to decide immediately; there's time to explore myriad options in college.

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Choosing a college major can be just as strenuous as choosing a college itself. Students are told that majors can help define a person's career, that they correlate directly with how much money student's make once they graduate, or that they have little to no bearing on where someone's professional life will go. Alex R. from Lakewood, N.J., wants to set the record straight, and asks:

[In photos: nine hot college majors.]

Q: I don't know what I want to major in yet. Can that hurt my application? When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

A: Liberal arts colleges and programs love the undecided!

Nancy Meislahn, dean of admissions and financial aid, Wesleyan University Please resist the pressure to pick a major to make the college process easier. Relatives and counselors will all ask: what do you want to study? Tell admission officers and write in your applications about all the things that interest you. We seek curious and creative students, well prepared to explore across the curriculum. Ask the adults you respect what they studied in college, and you'll find there are many pathways and routes to law school, teaching, business, etc. Choice is the hallmark of U.S. higher education; don't limit your horizons!

A: Take new classes and explore new options.

Eric Furda, dean of admissions, University of Pennsylvania High school students should not feel compelled to have their intended major selected for their college applications. Most college students declare their major toward the end of their sophomore year of college. This sense of 'undecidedness' or 'undeclared' can come from a strong interest in multiple fields, so you may want to speak to those interests or check multiple boxes on the application. Most faculty and departments in the liberal arts and sciences will encourage you to explore your interests by taking courses not even offered at most high schools and you may discover new fields of interest, even if you "know what you want to study." Feel free to keep your mind open and work with advisers once you are in college to explore the curriculum.

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 A: It's okay not to know what you want to study in college but…

Don Fraser Jr., Director of Education and Training, National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) You should be aware that when you commit to a major on your application, colleges will pay particular attention to your grades in the academic areas most associated with that major. You want to major in architecture, but you're a consistent "C" student in standard level math courses and you haven't taken any drafting or CAD courses even though you could have. This is a problem. If your transcript does not demonstrate that you are adept in these areas, then your candidacy may be seriously questioned. If you're not sure, don't force it. It's still OK to apply as "undecided."

[Explore college majors with the best return on investment.]

A: Be open to new possibilities and be ready to change.

Ralph Figueroa, director of college guidance, Albuquerque Academy Some colleges admit by major; others allow you to be undecided or change later. Most estimates say 80 percent of college students will change majors at least once. That flexibility is one of the best features about our education system. I had a college friend who was in the hospital for a long time. Bored, he read the course catalog from cover to cover. When he got out, he changed his major from computer science to sociology, because those courses sounded most interesting. Having a major in mind is fine, but be open to new possibilities and be ready to change.

Visit the Unigo Expert Network for 30 more experts weighing in on college majors and to have your own questions answered.