Penn StateMajors Decision-Making Program

Reference Guide


The Majors Decision-Making Program can help you choose a major in two ways:
  1. It provides a framework to help you find important information about majors and about decision-making.

  2. It provides a way to take that information and help you weigh the pros and cons of each major you're considering.
You may want to use the Majors Decision-Making Program twice: first to learn about the kinds of information you need in order to make a decision about a major and second, after you have that information, to evaluate the majors you've investigated.

Exploring Majors

This program works best if you have already thoroughly explored majors. However, you can also use this program to guide your exploration of majors. But there are many other resources available to help you learn more about majors and to help you make a decision about a major.

Major Decisions: For Students Who are Exploring Majors is a good place to start. You can read about some common misperceptions in choosing a major, important questions to ask yourself when exploring, interest inventories, course work, and more.

The following websites are just a few of the resources that can help you decide on a major.

Using the Majors Decision-Making Program

There are four steps in using the Majors Decision-Making Program:

    Step 1: List the majors you're considering.
    Step 2: Select important decision-making factors.
    Step 3: Classify the importance of each factor.
    Step 4: Rate each major-factor combination.

After you've completed all four steps, the Majors Decision-Making Program will calculate a score for each major, rank the majors from the highest score to the lowest, and display a bar graph of the scores. From these scores and the graph, you'll be able to see how each major compares with the other majors in matching the factors that are important to you.

The following sections describe the four main steps of the Majors Decision-Making Program in more detail and provide information about how best to use the program.

Step 1: Listing the Majors

In this step, you'll be asked to list up to seven majors you're currently considering.

You can enter the majors using any names or abbreviations that you like, and you can list them in any order. You can include a mix of baccalaureate and associate degree majors, non-Penn State majors, and even non-degree vocational programs like commercial art, health care, culinary education, etc.

Step 2: Selecting Important Factors

In this step, you'll be shown a list of fourteen factors that could influence your decision about a major. After reviewing the list, decide if you'd like to add any other factors of your own. If so, you can enter up to four additional factors in the boxes provided. Then put a check mark next to each factor that's important to you in choosing a major.

Each of the fourteen factors is described below to help you decide which ones to include on your list of important factors.


The first five factors concern your own personal characteristics as they relate to choice of major. (This section has been adapted from Major Decisions: For Students Who are Exploring Majors.)

  • Your Interests

    Think about the kinds of things you enjoy. Here are a few questions to get you started.

    • What activities do you like to participate in just for fun?
    • What do you like to watch on TV?
    • What topics do you enjoy reading about or talking to your friends about?
    • What courses did you like most in high school? In college?
    • When you fantasize about a career, what do you think you would enjoy doing or being?
    • What other things are you interested in?
    • What kinds of activities are you not interested in, and why?

    Being interested in a particular activity doesn't mean you have to consider exactly the same activity as a major or career; you can often find majors in other related areas. For example, if you like to participate in sports but know you couldn't become a professional athlete, you could still consider the kinesiology major and then go on to a career in athletic training, physical therapy, or sports medicine. Or you could major in journalism and go on to a career in sports journalism. If you enjoy music but don't see yourself being a professional musician, you could still consider a major in music education and then go on to a teaching career at the elementary, secondary, or even college level.

    Don't underestimate the importance of your interests. How much do you think you'd actually enjoy a particular major?

    For more information, check out interest inventories and other self-assessment resources.

  • Your Abilities

    Here are a few sample questions to help you think about your abilities (the things you're good at).

    • How do your SAT scores and high school grades compare to those of other students?
    • How have others judged your abilities in the past?
    • Have you won academic honors, or awards for excellence in art, music, debate, sports, or other performance areas?
    • Do you seem to have a natural talent for helping other people, working with numbers, influencing others, solving problems, using your hands, organizing events, or other areas?
    • How good are your study skills?
    • What other abilities do you have?

    Do you have the ability to be successful in the courses required in a particular major?

    For more information, check out SkillScan and other self-assessment resources.

  • Your Values

    Think about what's really important to you—the values and principles that guide your life. How would you answer these questions?

    • Are your decisions and choices influenced by certain religious, spiritual, philosophical, moral, or ethical beliefs?
    • Where do you stand politically on various issues?
    • How important is it for you to help others or serve your community?
    • Is making a lot of money really important to you? Or how about just a “comfortable” living?
    • Would you rather save the rain forests or cut them down? Why?
    • Would it be easy for you to cheat on an exam because you think it's “no big deal”?
    • When faced with a moral dilemma, do you always “do the right thing,” even if it's difficult?
    • Could you work in a job that promotes unethical, illegal, immoral, or unhealthy activities?
    • What place does a family have in your future?
    • What other things are really important to you?
    • How would you summarize your personal values?

    How would you feel if your values conflicted with a particular major or career you were considering?

    For more information, check out Values Assessment and other self-assessment resources.

  • Your Personality Traits

    Think about your emotions, behaviors, and ways of thinking. Here are some questions to help you assess your personality traits.

    • Are you outgoing—or shy?
    • Are you assertive—or passive?
    • Do you seek out excitement—or peace and quiet?
    • Are you open to new experiences or do you avoid them?
    • Are you chronically late, or are you always on time?
    • Are you anxious and nervous—or really laid-back?
    • Do you act impulsively or do you take your time to make decisions?
    • Are you patient and understanding or do you lose your temper easily?
    • Do you like being the center of attention or blending in with the crowd?
    • How else would you describe your personality?

    If you're shy and introverted, how would you feel about having to work in groups or give a speech to a roomful of people? If you're impatient, would you be able to work with young children? If you like to take your time to make decisions, how would you react to tight deadlines?

    Personality traits may not be easy to change. Does your personality match with the majors/careers you are considering?

    For more information, check out What's Your Personality Type? and other self-assessment resources.

  • Your Motivations

    Ask yourself what's motivating you to consider certain majors.

    • Are you motivated mostly by your interests, your abilities, your values, your personality, or something else?
    • Are outside pressures from family, friends, or the job market influencing your decisions?
    • Are you considering a major just because you think it will be easy?
    • Are you thinking about choosing a major because somebody else said you “should”?
    • Are you considering only majors that you think will lead to good jobs and making a lot of money?
    • What other things are motivating you?

    Would your motivation be enough for you to succeed in a major even if other factors pointed you away from that major?

    For more information, check out MAPP (Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential) and other self-assessment resources.


The next four factors concern the characteristics of majors.

  • Major Requirements

    Take a close look at the requirements of the majors you're considering and compare them.

    • Do the required courses look like you'd want to study them?
    • Does the major give you enough flexibility in course selection?
    • Are there any free electives allowed?
    • Could you easily incorporate a minor if you wanted to?
    • Is proficiency in a foreign language required?
    • How difficult would the required courses be for you?
    • How much science and math are required?
    • How much reading and writing are involved?
    • Are there any special requirements (courses or grades) for getting into the major?
    • Would you be able to meet those requirements on time?
    • Are the requirements in the major a good match for you?

    For more information, check out the University Bulletin.

  • Major Reputation

    What do you know about the reputation of the majors/departments you're considering?

    • Do you know how they're ranked nationally?
    • Do they have a particularly good reputation in a specific area?
    • Have they been accredited by an external agency?
    • Does it matter to you?

    Reputation may be an important factor if you're considering graduate school or other professional schools after earning your baccalaureate degree. It might also be important in terms of your career goals when applying for jobs in prestigious firms or jobs that require a degree from an accredited undergraduate program.

    For more information, check out the Penn State Department Directory.

  • Faculty Reputation

    What do you know about the faculty members in the departments you're considering?

    • Do they have a reputation for being excellent teachers and advisers?
    • Do they like working with undergraduates?
    • Are they nationally known faculty who could give you a first-rate education within their fields of expertise?
    • Do they have a distinguished record of research and publication?
    • Do they encourage students to work with them on their research projects?
    • Do they share your interests in their field of expertise as well as in other areas?
    • Would letters of recommendation from them be important to you?

    For more information, check out the Penn State Department Directory or Google the faculty.

  • Graduate/Professional School Preparation

    • Do you plan to go on for further education after you earn your baccalaureate degree?
    • Do you expect to go on to law school, medical school, or other professional school?
    • Is a graduate/professional degree required for the type of career you want to enter?

    If so, is the major you're considering going to help prepare you for your post-baccalaureate education? Will you be able to take the right courses? For example, if you want to go to medical school, can you choose a major in the Liberal Arts? (With careful planning, yes!) Will the major give you the kinds of courses and preparation you need in order to be accepted by the graduate/professional school you want to attend?

    For more information, check out graduate school information.


The next two factors may fall outside of your control, but you may need to consider them anyway.

  • Time and Finances

    Is the amount of time it would take you to complete the requirements for a particular major an important factor? If finances are a big concern, then the amount of time you can afford to spend in college might limit your choice of major. If so, what about considering an associate degree program to start?

    Associate degree programs can usually be completed in two years. Most baccalaureate degree programs, however, require at least four years of full-time study, and some require five years to complete. Baccalaureate programs can require as few as 120 credits or more than 160 credits.

    How much time can you afford to spend in college and how long would it take you to complete the requirements for each major you're considering?

    For more information, check out Financial Difficulties and Penn State Tuition.

  • Family Influences

    What influence, if any, does your family have on your choice of major?

    • Is it important for you to choose a major that will please your family?
    • Are you getting pressure from family members to select a particular major or a certain type of major?
    • Have your parents told you they will help pay for your education only if you choose a major they approve of?

    If so, these are limitations you have to consider. If family approval is important to you, how well does each major you're considering meet your family's expectations?

    For more information, check out Making Peace with Your Parents.


The next three factors are concerned with the characteristics of careers and jobs.

For many students, preparing for a career is their main reason for attending college. But choosing a career and choosing a major are not the same thing. While the two are related, there's not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between majors and careers. For example, a student could major in psychology and have a career in marketing. Another student could major in accounting and have a career in human resources. And both of these students could be perfectly happy with their choices of major and career. Did you know that within five to ten years after graduation, most people are working in careers that are not directly related to their undergraduate majors?

Also, choosing a particular career doesn't necessarily lead to a decision about a major. For example, a student who decides to become a lawyer can choose virtually any undergraduate major and still be accepted into excellent law schools. A student who decides to become a doctor might think he or she should major in pre-med, but could just as well major in biology, psychology, kinesiology, or engineering. And a student who decides on a career in advertising could get there by majoring in journalism, history, marketing, English, art, or communications. In many other areas as well, deciding on a career could still leave you options in deciding on a major.

If careers are important to you, then you may want to consider the following three factors. For additional information, visit Penn State's office of Career Services at your campus or check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

  • Job Availability

    The fear of not being able to find a job when they graduate makes some students avoid certain majors because they think there are no jobs in those areas. However, students are often misinformed when it comes to majors and jobs.

    Some students know they may have problems finding a job in their chosen field, but aren't discouraged because their love for the major and potential careers outweighs concerns about finding a job.

    If job availability is important to you, you need to find out what the projections are for the majors/careers you're considering—you might be surprised. Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook for information about the projected availability of jobs in hundreds of occupational categories. Projections are never perfect; there are no guarantees when it comes to job availability.

    Also keep in mind that getting a job isn't based just on your major; there are many other factors that can be more important. Still, if you want to be an accountant, you will probably want to major in accounting. So given these circumstances, will the majors you're considering provide the education you'll need for the job that you want?

  • Job Salary

    For some students, choosing a major that they think will lead to a high-paying job is an important factor. Keep in mind, however, that wanting a high salary doesn't guarantee success in a major or in a career. It also doesn't ensure job satisfaction, happiness in life outside of the job, or continuing success on the job.

    If a high salary is important to you, you'll want to do some career investigation through the Occupational Outlook Handbook. (Sometimes the highest-paying jobs don't even require a college degree.)

  • Career Advancement

    Do you want to be on a “fast track” and move up your career ladder as fast and as far as possible? If so, opportunities for job advancement might affect your choice of major. How fast can you advance in the careers you're considering? Is one major really better than another in preparing for this type of job? Use the Occupational Outlook Handbook to find out more.

Step 3: Classifying the Importance of Each Factor

In this step, you'll be asked to classify how important each factor is in relation to the other factors that you selected. For most students, not all factors will be equally important. One or two factors might be extremely important, some might be only slightly important, and others might fall somewhere in between.

For each factor you selected, you will be asked to choose one of the five levels of importance shown below:
  • Extremely important
  • Very important
  • Moderately important
  • Somewhat important
  • Only slightly important

Step 4: Rating Each Major

In this section, you'll be asked to rate each major in relation to each factor you selected. You can rate each major-factor pair by asking this question: “How high does the 'X' major rate in terms of the 'Y' factor?” Specific examples might be, “How high does the psychology major rate in terms of my interests?” or “How high does the marketing major rate in terms of my abilities?”

For each major-factor pair, enter a rating from 0 to 100. Enter a rating of zero if the major doesn't match the factor at all. Enter a rating of one hundred if the major matches the factor perfectly. Enter ratings between 0 and 100 to indicate other levels of matching between majors and factors. Here's an example:

Let's assume you're considering the English major and the Mathematics major, and that “your abilities” and “your interests” are important factors. You would first need to ask yourself how your abilities in English compare to your abilities in math. If you're a very good math student but only an average English student, you might give the Mathematics major a rating of 90 on abilities, but the English major a rating of only 70. In terms of your interests, on the other hand, you might like studying English more than studying math, so you might give the English major a rating of 95 on interests but the Mathematics major a rating of only 75 on interests.

The ratings you assign should be based on the information you've learned about each major. This rating is obviously a value judgment on your part, but if you've obtained good information and have taken the time to seriously consider each major, then your judgments will be accurate enough for the Majors Decision-Making Program to calculate valid scores.

Viewing the results

After you've entered your ratings for each major-factor combination, the Majors Decision-Making Program will use a mathematical formula to calculate a score for each major based on the information you entered. Although the final scores can range from 0 to 100, most scores will fall in between those two extremes.

The program will also rank the majors from the highest score to the lowest score and will display a bar graph of those scores. In general, the higher the score and the longer the bar, the better the major matches the factors that are important to you.

The results page also provides a summary of the factors you chose, the levels of importance you assigned to each factor, and the ratings you gave to each major-factor combination.

It is recommended that you print a copy of the results page for your records. Aside from providing the results, the summary report can also serve as a guide for obtaining additional information you might need if you want to use the Majors Decision-Making Program again later.

Interpreting the results

Here are some things to keep in mind to help you interpret your results:
  1. First, the results from the Majors Decision-Making Program should not be used alone. This program is a tool that should be used in combination with other resources in making your decision about a major.

  2. Because the final scores are based on your own estimates of importance and on the ratings you gave to each major-factor combination, if your estimates or ratings aren't accurate, then the final scores won't be accurate either.

  3. If you found that you couldn't decide how important each factor was or what rating to give each major for each factor, you'll need to get some additional information before making your decision about a major. Try the Majors Decision-Making Program again using the new information.

  4. If all of your final scores are low (50 or less) or all of the scores are about the same, you may need to do some more information gathering and self-reflection before making your decision.

  5. It's in your best interest to consult with academic advisers as you go through the process of choosing a major. Advisers can provide additional information, make referrals, recommend readings, suggest strategies, provide clarification and interpretation, and give you a chance to discuss your ideas and concerns with someone who has a professional interest in your education.

  6. Finally, keep in mind that choosing one major doesn't mean you have to give up your interests in other areas. You may be able to combine your interests through minors, concurrent majors, or sequential majors. You may even be able to design your own unique major through programs like Letters, Arts, and Sciences, Integrative Arts, and the Bachelor of Philosophy degree.

This program is maintained by the Division of Undergraduate Studies. Contact:
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