Majors and Minors
If you've chosen a vocational/specialized route, you already know what you'll be studying, so this section is for everyone else — those who've chosen to go to college, and have maybe a general idea of what they'd like to go into, but haven't been able to get more specific than that. (If you have zero idea of what you want to do, start with our Tips for the Undecided instead.)
About Majors and Minors
Major: Your primary field of study. You concentrate most of your classes on it, and a final project/paper is often required to complete your major. If you are pursuing a bachelor's degree, you will need to declare and complete a major in order to get a degree. It is possible to have more than one major, so long as all department requirements are met.
A nice overview of majors and how they function can be found at the Princeton Review.
Minor: A secondary field of study, involving less intensive work than your major(s). Minors can usually be completed just by taking and passing specific department classes meant to offer a broad survey. Minors may be required or optional, and are not offered through all departments.
Before Getting Started: Rules of Thumb
Those who figure out exactly what they want the quickest will be able to pursue that study route most efficiently. You'll know which classes you need, you'll be able to take them in the right order, and you'll have earlier and better chances to get tailored study abroad/internship/experience-building opportunities.
However, not everything is about efficiency, and it's no use rushing to finish a major if it turns out you just don't like it.If you and a major are meant to be, you'll find the classes for it kind of exciting, even when it's hard. If it turns out you don't feel like that, ever (if for instance you went in thinking 'business' but find all the business classes boring, or if you're pre-med and hate it), please don't expect that that feeling will magically turn into something else once you graduate.
So what can you do if you end up not liking your original major? For one, use those first 1-2 years to experiment with out-of-the-box classes — basically, just play around with as many different subjects as fast as you can until you find something that doesexcite you. And keep an open mind! Many people who were seriously underwhelmed by certain subjects in high school find out that they have a passion for them once they get to college (they actually like English, math, chemistry, etc). It is completely possible to fall in love with a major you never expected, and for many this discovery becomes a wonderful turning point that redefines their career goals and gives them a better sense of purpose. So yes, it really can turn out great even if the major you originally planned on turns into something else entirely.
That said, please keep in mind is that having absolutely no idea of what you want to do never bodes well, and the time from freshman year through about midway sophomore year is really the only chunk of time you'll have to try things out with a clean conscience. You can still change majors during your late sophomore, junior, or even senior year, but you'll be decreasing your chances to succeed in your major the longer you take to commit to it. At the very least, have it narrowed down to 2-3 possible majors by sophomore year, and try to follow along with the requirements for each so that you stay on track no matter which you finally decide on.
Choosing a Major
Everyone loves quizzes, right?
MyMajors.com offers An EXTENSIVE survey of your interests and important personality traits, ultimately giving you about 5 top options to consider, as well as some related fields. (Plus, its accuracy can't be that far off; as someone who has already graduated college, it guessed both my majors and suggested several other subjects that I did indeed have an interest in.) And, if you're unhappy with the results, just figure out the reason you're unhappy to steer yourself in a better direction. For instance, if it suggested 'ethnic studies' to you because you like to learn about other cultures, but you really only have an interest in ancient cultures, then maybe you should consider history.
If you already know which school you'll be going to, consider taking the suggestions generated by the quiz (or anything you already had in mind) and visiting your college's website for information about those departments. For example, if it suggested different science majors to you, try looking into what the chemistry or biology departments look like and who the professors are. Does one class environment peak your interest more than the other, just by picturing yourself there? (And of course, once you're attending school, you'll have many more tools to help you decide — read through a class syllabus, check the reading lists, talk to students and professors, and it should be pretty easy to figure out what gets you most excited.)
If you end up completely unable to decide between two subjects, you may be a good candidate for a double major. They require a lot of time and energy, but if you're equally devoted to two different areas and can meet the requirements, you can indeed complete two entirely different majors. If you decide to try this route, make sure to talk with your academic adviser at college to make sure you'll be staying on track with all your classes. (And if you really like two subjects, but don't want to double major, see 'Minors' below.)
One final thing to consider here: always know your job options with any given major. Obviously finding a major that's a really good fit with your interests can be great, but you do have to make sure the degree you're going to get still matches up with your goals for the future. In other words, whatever you major in, you should have some intention of staying in or near that field for your career after graduation, or at the very least using the same general skill set (critical thinking, communication skills, etc). This is pretty much an iron-clad rule, so again: if you've got no intention of following up on your major in any way after college, you are lying to yourself if you think that you should make that major the center of your college experience.
How to avoid catastrophe: No matter which major you're leaning towards, or which you pick, just make sure beforehand that you can come up with a few jobs you could get with a degree in that major, and that they're jobs you'd actually be willing to put in the blood/sweat/tears/time to get. So for instance, if you become passionate about history, it is by far most likely that what would be open to you after college are teaching jobs; you could either get certified to become a history teacher, or you can go on to complete a PhD and become a history professor. If both of those sound like too much extra work, and if you can't come up with any other ideas, then you may very well end up with a degree that is in no way specialized to help you once you graduate. You will then be tossed into a job market where many of the other graduates do have specialized degrees, and are now competing with you for jobs they're more qualified than you to have. Not a fun boat to be in.
So one more time: Pick any major you want, but no matter what it is, KNOW YOUR JOB OPTIONS and be ready to pursue them. Oddball opportunities related to your major can always open up, but counting on that is about as wise as using the lottery as your long-term financial plan.
Choosing a Minor
First, keep in mind that minors are usually entirely optional. You don't have to have one.
However, many if not most students pick one up because A) it's pretty easy, B) they show diversity and look good on a resume, C) most people are not obsessive about one subject only and actually want to be taking those classes in another field.
So assuming that you'll probably get one, the nice thing is that there's very little pressure involved with minors. They can literally be in whatever you want, and are just there to make you look well-rounded. So you get plenty of pre-med students with minors in English, law students with minors in philosophy, computer science majors with minors in theater, and so on. And if you're interested in lots of subjects, it's a lot easier to pick up two minors than it is two majors.
The only thing to be wary of with minors is that they are the number one thing students fall back on when their original choice of major falls through. So if, say, you're an economics major who decides junior year that you want nothing to do with economics, you may have to fall back on your minor — basically, since you would have already taken a bunch of classes in your minor, it may be the only subject you have time to turn into a major before you graduate. So if your minor was psychology, you're now a psychology major rather than an economics major. And you probably love psychology, so that's fantastic!...if you now intend to do something related to psychology as a career. If you don't, then you will have to complete your new major just for the sake of getting a general bachelor's degree, which potentially leaves with you with a ton of debt and no direction or real qualifications to show for it.
Moral of the story: minors can be fun additions to majors you're already certain about, but if you're unsure of your major, pick a solid minor to fall back on.