Choosing Your Major

II. Before You Choose a Major: Five Questions to Ask Yourself

1. What are my interests and what intrigues me?

  • What are the kinds of activities that you enjoy participating in, reading, studying, or talking about, or watching on TV.
  • What hobbies do you actively pursue? Do you enjoy group activities, or do you prefer working alone?
  • Do you enjoy outdoor activities or being indoors?
  • What courses did you enjoy most in high school?
  • What courses have you enjoyed most at Gustavus?
  • When you fantasize about a career, what do you think you would enjoy doing or being?
  • What kinds of activities are you not interested in, and why?
  • Would you be interested in the work required in a particular major?

2. What are my values?

  • Are your decisions and choices influenced by certain religious or philosophical beliefs and teachings?
  • Do you consider service to others to be an important part of your personal philosophy?
  • Is a broad undergraduate education more important to you than a more narrowly-focused program, or is the opposite true?
  • Do you value financial security above all else?
  • What practices do you consider ethical or unethical?
  • What place does a family have in your future?
  • Will your values fit with a potential major or career field?

3. What are my motivations?

  • Do your strongest motivations come from your interests, your abilities, your values, or from some other factors?
  • Are outside pressures (from family, peers, or the job market) shaping and influencing your decisions?
  • Are you thinking about choosing a major because you believe it will be easy?
  • Is your primary motivation based on the amount of money you think you can earn in a given field rather than interest in the field itself?
  • Would your motivation be strong enough to allow you to succeed in a major even if other factors seemed to direct you away from that major?
  • Who will ultimately have to live with the consequences of this decision—you or other people?

4. What are my abilities (and capabilities--do I think I can learn what is necessary to be successful in a particular area)?

  • Be objective and ask yourself how your college entrance exam scores and high school grades compare to those of other students.
  • What are the projections for your success in certain academic areas?
  • Was poor performance in a particular area in the past based primarily on lack of aptitude or lack of effort? If lack of effort, will you have time, money and motivation to make up in college any basic skills you did not acquire in high school?
  • How have others judged your performance in the past?
  • Have you won scholastic honors, or awards for excellence in art, music, sports, or other performance areas?
  • What are your talents--helping other people, working with numbers, influencing others, solving problems, using your hands, organizing, public speaking?
  • Do you have the ability to handle the work required in a particular major?

5. What are the realities?

  • Will you be able to meet entrance-to-major requirements on time, particularly in departments which are more restrictive (nursing, sciences, etc.)?
  • Does Gustavus offer the major(s) that you are considering, or would you have to transfer to another school?
  • How much education can you afford to finance, particularly for careers which require graduate education such as a college professor?
  • Do your interests, abilities, values, and motivations conflict with each other, or are they in agreement?
  • How much extra time will it take to graduate if you have already completed a significant number of credits that cannot be applied to a major?
  • If you completed the majority of requirements for a major, would it make more sense to finish the major you have already started and pick up courses or a minor in an area you are more interested in exploring?


You may be very interested in a major, but find that you don't have the skills to handle the academic demands of the required courses. Conversely, you may have abilities in a particular area but do not have any real interest in studying in that area. Sometimes, you may have both interests and abilities in an area but find that the realities of the job market are such that you are not willing to risk an investment of time and money on potentially bleak employment chances.

Choosing a major is in part based on the answers to these questions of interest, abilities, values, motivations and realities. Answering these questions will help you determine whether a major will be a good fit for you. It is unwise to attempt to choose a major by connecting it specifically with a career without self-assessment, without knowledge of the world of work, without knowledge of what is required by the major department, and without good decision-making skills.

Adapted from Pennsylvania State University with permission from the author.