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Articles / Applying to College / Must I choose a college major?
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Feb. 10, 2002

Must I choose a college major?

Question: Do I have to know what my major will be before I go to college this fall?

Believe it or not, most college freshmen really don't know what they want their major to be. Even if they have a particular major in mind, statistics show that today's freshman will change academic direction three to five times in a four-year program. In most college programs, a major doesn't have to be declared until the end of the sophomore year. Some programs can even wait until the beginning of the junior year.


Students who want to follow specialized technical programs, however, are better advised to commit earlier than the sophomore year. The reason for this is curriculum requirements. Take a program in electrical engineering, for example. At many universities, the school of engineering requires that an engineering major take more courses than the garden-variety liberal arts major. Because of this, the engineering majors have to follow a pre-described sequence of courses that has little or no slack.

You may have seen the phrase "five-year graduation rate." What that implies is that a surprising number of college students today take five years to graduate from a four-year program. The extra year can come from two main sources. First, if a student makes a major change in the junior year, for example, there may be a need to go longer to pick up the new major's required courses.

Another problem is the unavailability of required courses when the students need them. This happens sometimes when faculty go on sabbatical or enrollment numbers do not prove to be profitable to teach a course. This problem has become so acute that some major universities are offering a "four-year graduation guarantee." If you can't get all your courses in four years, the remainder will be paid for by the university.

Don't be concerned. You'll gravitate to your major of choice in plenty of time.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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