Declaring a Major
Choosing a Major
Deciding on a major requires careful thought and self-assessment. An undergraduate advisor can help you make the right decision for you based on your skills, hobbies, career goals, learning style, extracurricular interests and more. Consider the major declaration process a five-step decision:
- 1. Assess Yourself
Self-assessment is a vital part of the career planning process and will take time. You will want to consider and evaluate areas such as your values, interests, skills, personality and desired lifestyle. Take into consideration your academic strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you dislike math, you will want to avoid majors that require multiple quantitative courses.
Since it is often easier for students to determine what they do not want to major in versus what they do want, using the process of elimination can at least help narrow your options. You start by considering all the majors offered in CCAS, and eliminate the majors you do not want to pursue after reflecting on your interests. Then, take some time to consider the list you are left with.
Next, assess your interests, skills/abilities and values. Ask yourself these questions:
- What are the subjects in which you excel and find intriguing?
- What activities do you especially enjoy — research, writing, performing, sports, hands-on activities, organizing, creative activities? What are your hobbies?
- What skills do you believe you possess — i.e., leadership, organization, teaching, research?
- What do you value — service to others, accumulating wealth, happiness in your home, independence in work situations? What brings you satisfaction? What kind of environment makes you happiest?
Other resources to help you narrow your focus:
- 2. Gather Information and Explore Options
One of the best ways to narrow your choices is to look closely at the course requirements for the majors that interest you. If you find that the required courses and prerequisites for a particular major are not interesting to you or do not complement your strengths, that might be an indication that you should consider another major.
Once you have looked at the requirements, compare what you found out about your own interests, skills and values in step 1 with a selected list of majors. Make a short list of five or six possible majors, then use the University Bulletin to explore these majors. Remember to think broadly about majors, as many majors relate to numerous career fields and prepare students for similar work environments and graduate programs.
To help you explore your options:
- If you can go in person, visit the departmental office and pick up their materials.
- Browse the departmental website. The website will often list additional resources, special requirements and names of faculty members who you can talk to.
- Know which majors are selective or require a breadth of courses to be met in a specific manner.
- Discuss course selections with your Columbian College academic advisor that will keep your options open while exploring.
For each of the majors you are considering, ask yourself:
- Does this major’s required coursework complement my interests and abilities?
- Is this the best major to address my multiple interests?
- Are there any prerequisite courses that may be particularly difficult for me?
- Do the courses in this major match my learning style?
- How much freedom will I have to take elective courses?
- Does this major require a lot of writing, quantitative skills, foreign language courses, etc.?
- What areas of research do the faculty engage in?
- Are there other important considerations for me?
- 3. Narrow Your Focus
The next step is to further narrow your focus down to two or three majors you are seriously considering. Follow these steps to help you in this process:
- Enroll in courses that introduce you to the major(s).
- Speak to current students in the major.
- Review the criteria to declare each of your possible majors.
- Meet with your CCAS Academic Advisor who can partner with you to evaluate the information you have collected, assist you in weighing the pros and cons of each option, and answer your questions. Your advisor can also provide you with a “what if” scenario on DegreeMAP for any major you are considering.
- Be sure the major(s) you are considering fit your academic strengths and abilities.
- If you have multiple interests, determine if you can address them by declaring a major and a minor, or a double major.
- Make it your goal to successfully transition into your major no later than the end of your sophomore year.
- 4. Speak to a Departmental Advisor
The best way to learn about a major is to speak with undergraduate faculty advisors in that department. You can find out who the faculty advisor is for any department by asking your CCAS professional academic advisor, stopping by the department in person or on their website, or browsing our list of all undergraduate major advisors.
Then, make an appointment to meet with the faculty advisor or stop by their office hours. Take time to dig deeper with questions like:
- Where have graduates of your program gone? What specific organizations have hired them and for what positions? Do any of these areas represent a good fit for my own needs and goals?
- What specific prerequisites are required for admission to this major? Is there a GPA requirement? What is the declaration process?
- What courses and experiences are required to complete this major? Are there internship or practicum requirements? How about research opportunities? Does the department offer a listserv that I can join?
- Which courses have I already taken that will apply to this major? Toward breadth requirements? What further coursework will be required?
- What other programs does the department offer? Minors? Which of these options best fits my needs?
- What skills and competencies will I develop through this major?
- What might I dislike about this major?
- What do my strengths need to be to do well in this major?
- What is the department’s typical class size?
- 5. Take Action
Choosing a major requires your active participation. You must be proactive in this process!
- Be sure you are aware of the criteria to declare this a, your eligibility for this major and the timeline for declaration of this major.
- Choose student activities, internships, volunteer work and/or part-time employment that can help you develop your skills in areas that interest you.
- Talk to people who work in the career fields you are considering. Ask them about their major and how it helped them.
- Consider possible internships and Career Center workshops.
When to Declare
You can declare your major at any time, however, most CCAS students will declare their major in their third full-time semester (or after completing 45 credits, whichever comes first), and no later than the registration period before the fifth full-time semester. Transfer students are recommended to declare their major during their first or second semester at GW.
How to Declare
- Complete a Declaration of Major/Minor Form (PDF) with the faculty advisor in the chosen major. At this meeting, students will review the major requirements and devise a tentative course of study to complete the major. Currently, these meetings are being held virtually. Please reach out via email to the undergraduate faculty advisor for the major or minor you wish to declare to complete the declaration process.
- Submit the signed Declaration of Major form to the Advising office.
- Once students declare a major, they will receive, or select a departmental faculty advisor who will provide subject matter expertise and can tailor the student's interests to the requirements of the major. Departmental faculty advisors can serve as mentors, role models, career counselors, writers of recommendation letters and sources of information on graduate and professional studies.
- After they have successfully declared, students will maintain their professional academic advisor in CCAS as well as their departmental advisor.
Special Major Programs
Students who complete the requirements of two majors in Columbian College (such as mathematics and physics, or history and economics) may graduate with a double major under a specific primary degree (BA, BS, BFA). Consult with advisors in the two departments concerned before officially declaring both majors.
Double majors do not result in two degrees. Students will receive one degree, showing both majors (see the GW Bulletin for further details). Students may declare a maximum of two majors.
Some academic departments require you to complete an application in addition to the standard declaration of major form. Visit the academic department website, browse the GW Bulletin or speak to a faculty advisor for details on your chosen major.