College Majors: 5 Things You Need to Know

How do you choose a college major? This is my second blog post that explores this question. If you missed the first one, here is the link:

Choosing a College Major

Today I want to share some more tips on majors:

1. Rethink a business major.

Business is the most popular major in the country, but don’t assume that you have to major in business to make money.  Every year PayScale ranks college degrees by pay and business is always in the middle of the pack in terms of salary. In other words, it’s overrated. Here are two posts that I wrote on best and worst-paying college degrees:

Top 20 Best-Paying College Degrees in 2010

20 Worst-Paying College Degrees in 2010

2. Look for schools where you don’t need to declare a major.

I think it’s rotten that some schools, particularly state institutions, require students to declare their majors during the admission process. In my opinion, one of the worst offenders in my state is California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

Students applying to this Cal Poly, which is a very popular school, must declare a major and some students have to get very specific about what they want to major in. Engineering majors, for instance, must declare in advance whether they want to major in civil, industrial, mechanical, electrical, architectural engineering or some other specialty. What 17- or 18-year-old will know that?

Once you’re in your major at this and other schools, it can be difficult switching into something else. I know a young woman who dreamed of becoming an architect at Cal Poly, but was rejected for this major. She selected mechanical engineering instead, but she tried repeatedly to get into Cal Poly’s architecture school once she was a student there. She even took architectural classes at a nearby community college as she waited in vain for an architecture opening.

3. Declare a major – if you must.

Getting into hot career-oriented majors like engineering can be difficult at some schools without declaring that major upfront. Consequently, it can be smart to apply to an engineering or business school even if you’re not sure if that’s what you want. If you decide to switch to a less popular major, say history or philosophy, you shouldn’t encounter obstacles.

4. Reconsider double majoring.

You don’t have to double major to find a job after college. That’s the opinion of Peter Johnson, the dean of admissions at Columbia University. He sees students at his Ivy League school kill themselves by double majoring. He says it’s absolutely not necessary. He insists that employers don’t care if you have a double major.

Here’s a thought: earning a minor while in college will be less arduous.

5. Ditch the double major for a master’s.

Getting a double major can delay a student’s graduation. You might need five years to double major rather than four for a single major. Here’s an idea:  you could use that extra year to get a master’s degree, which would be much more valuable.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also blogs about college for CBSMoneyWatch and

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  1. Another excellent piece!!! Couldn’t agree more with the “Reconsider Business” advice. There are so many people out there working in typical “business” jobs without a “Business Administration” degree.