Choosing Your Major

You’ll work primarily with your academic adviser when it comes time to choose and declare your major. That said, it may be useful to consider your post-graduate journey with your given major(s) in discussion with your CLS adviser. Here are some helpful things to consider:

Your career path does not have to be determined by your major, or it can be—it’s up to you! Whether you think you know what you want to major in or you have no idea, the best place to start is by reflecting on who you are and what you want to do after graduation. Grinnell’s individually advised curriculum provides you the opportunity to take a plethora of classes and explore the different subject areas to discover what you are most passionate about. Additionally, Grinnell offers a number of experiential learning opportunities that can help you see how your academic coursework connects to postgraduate careers.

The questions below are a great starting point for your personal reflection. You can also meet with your current academic adviser, CLS adviser, favorite professors, or an adviser in the Academic Advising Office to discuss your interests, strengths, and goals, all of which can influence the major you choose.

• What classes have you found interesting and engaging?
• What topic(s) could you talk about for hours?
• What industry do you think you might like to enter after graduation?
• What topics do you like to learn about?
• What role, if any, does your family have in your major decision?

Myth #1: My major will determine my career path for the rest of my life, so I have to choose a major that relates to my future

» This may be true if you know what you want your future career to be, but don’t forget that most people don’t stay
in the same career their whole life. Choose a major that you find interesting and will teach you the skills you need
to be successful in a variety of industries.

Myth #2: I have to decide on my major quickly.
» Grinnell requires that students declare one major by the second semester of their second year. You need to
declare your major before you pre-register for your fifth semester. For some majors, there could be some benefits
for declaring earlier, such as priority registration for major courses, so ask your academic adviser about a timeline
that works for you and your intended major.

Myth #3: Once I declare my major, I can’t change it later.
» While you will need to declare a major, keep in mind that you can change your major or add additional majors or
a concentration later, as long as you will have time to complete the credit requirements for your new major or
concentration. You can change your major by submitting this form to the Registrar.

Myth #4: The more majors and concentrations I combine, the more marketable for a full-time job I will be.
» Choosing too many majors and concentrations may leave you feeling over-committed, with not much flexibility,
and no additional marketability. Remember, you can develop skills for your career outside of the classroom that will
complement the skills you develop inside the classroom. Think carefully about your goals before declaring multiple
majors and concentrations.

Myth #5: Everyone at Grinnell double majors.
» Not true! In the last five years, less than half of each graduating class has double majored.

Myth #6: Grinnell doesn’t have the major I want, so I have to do an independent major.
» While you can certainly plan an independent major, many students find that the knowledge and skills they get by
completing a major and concentration, or even two majors, provides a solid foundation for their post-graduate
plans. Students interested in declaring an Independent major should complete this form.

Research Your Options

Part of the stress of choosing a major is not knowing what your options are. Grinnell offers 27 majors and 18 concentrations. Take some time to review the majors and concentrations that you might be interested in exploring further, then use the tools and resources listed below to research majors and opportunities for college graduates with that major. Remember, as a liberal arts student, you are developing a number of transferable skills that can be useful in lots of post-graduate opportunities, so know that your major does not have to determine what you will do for the rest of your life.

Tools and ResourcesPurposeHow to Access
Grinnell’s Academic CatalogRead through the list of courses
available through each major
department and identify which
courses sound most interesting.
Departmental WebsitesLearn about the requirements for
each major on their website and the
outcomes for Grinnell students
graduating with this major.
Departmental Advising and Registration SuggestionsFind a sample four-year plan for each major.
Departmental Welcome Sessions and Majors’ FairLearn about major requirements and opportunities at these events coordinated by the Level Up second-year program. Welcome Sessions are hosted throughout the month of October by each department. The Majors’ Fair is organized by SEPCs and gives you a chance to talk with other students about their experiences.Level Up Events Page
What Can I Do with This Major?This website offers common career
area and employment types by
What Can I Do with This Major?
Grinnell Alumni OutcomesCurious about what Grinnellians
have done in the past? This website
describes outcomes for alumni from
various majors.
Candid CareersDiscover and explore career options
by viewing thousands of short, 3–5
minute informational interviews and
video clips of industry professionals.
Candid Careers
Occupational Outlook
This website can help you find career
information on tasks, education and
training, pay, and outlook for
hundreds of occupations.
Textbooks for courses
in potential majors
Skim through the textbooks for
courses you are considering for a
major to help you decide if the
major content is engaging to you.
Grinnell College Bookstore
933 Main Street

It’s important to think about your academic experience beyond the major you declare. You have the opportunity to create a broad program with multiple foci, enhanced by each class you choose. Focus on gaining career-related curricular experiences as well through research, Off Campus Study (OCS), independent study including MAPS, and other experiential opportunities. Pursue experiences beyond the curriculum, such as campus employment, community involvement, student organization activities, internships and externships, summer jobs, CLS treks, alternative break trips, and Service Learning Work Study positions.

As you intentionally add these experiences, think about how they build on interests and skills you already have and how they intersect with each other. Testing out the industries and areas you are most interested in can help you narrow your focus and decide on a major. Participate in experiences that can help you explore your passions, connect with individuals who have majored in fields you want to know more about, and develop skills for post-graduate life.

Faculty Adviser
Your current adviser will assist you with considering possible majors, pros/cons of a double major or adding a concentration, considering an independent major (if you’re interested), and identifying a new adviser as you begin the major declaration process.

Academic Advising Office
The staff in Academic Advising will consult with you on all of the above topics, offering a place to reflect and an additional perspective for your decision. They also coordinate Level Up, a program with events and resources for second-years, including major declaration support.

Your CLS exploratory adviser can support you as you reflect on your interests, explore major options, and consider how these can connect to your post-graduate plans.

Faculty and Students in Each Major
All departmental faculty are well-versed in the requirements of their department’s major(s) and can speak to the courses you would need to take. Request syllabi for classes of interest from faculty members to gauge your interest level in the course content. To get a student’s perspective on a major, it can be very helpful to talk to students in the department’s Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC).

Office of International Student Affairs
If you are a F-1 student seeking an internship or job in the U.S. during or after graduation, consult with the Office of International Student Affairs to discuss work authorization and how your intended major(s) relate to your plans.

Grinnell alumni have been where you are and want to support your interests and goals. Conducting informational interviews with Grinnell alumni can provide insight about how their major impacted their career path. Use the alumni search feature on LinkedIn to find alumni, and read through the CLS’s how-to guide on informational interviews.

Other Professionals
You likely have individuals in your personal network who can speak to their experience with their own major and how it impacted their post-graduate plans. Conducting informational interviews with these individuals can also be beneficial.

Declaring Your Major

• Anthropology
• Art History
• Biological Chemistry
• Biology
• Chemistry
• Chinese
• Classics
• Computer Science
• Economics
• English
• French
• Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies
• General Science
• German Studies
• History
• Independent Major
• Japanese (offered Fall 2023)
• Mathematics
• Music
• Philosophy
• Physics
• Political Science
• Psychology
• Religious Studies
• Russian
• Sociology
• Spanish
• Studio Art
• Theatre and Dance

• American Studies
• Digital Studies
• East Asian Studies
• Education Studies (offered Fall 2023)
• Environmental Studies
• European Studies
• Film and Media Studies
• Global Development Studies
• Latin American Studies
• Linguistics
• Neuroscience
• Peace and Conflict Studies
• Policy Studies
• Russian, Central European, and Eurasian Studies,
• Science, Medicine, and Society
• Statistics
• Studies in Africa, Middle East, and South Asia

An independent major is a coherent program of study that cannot be pursued within the college’s established majors. Most Grinnell students choose an established major, but students may, in cooperation with two faculty advisers, design an independent major. Students who decide to complete an independent major must be very self-motivated, proactive, and organized. It can be challenging to organize which classes to take and when, especially if they are only offered during certain semesters in certain years. Before designing an independent major, consider that you might be able to accomplish what you want by completing two majors and a concentration. Independent majors will need to complete this form and submit it to the Registrar.

Have you made a decision about your major? The next step is to formally declare your major, which needs to be done before you pre-register for your fifth semester (typically spring of second year). You declare by completing the steps within the Major Declaration Form. This form contains three components, described in detail below.

Once you’ve landed on a major, write a brief reflection based on these questions:
• Why this particular major?
• How does your major choice connect to your larger goals?
• How do your curricular and co-curricular plans connect to your plan for a liberal education? Writing your rationale can serve as practice for writing about yourself and your goals—very useful for job applications, cover letters, scholarships, and graduate school applications.

  1. Brainstorm potential advisers
    • Think back to faculty who you have taken classes with and met through other channels.
    • Take a look at faculty profiles on the website.
    • Ask peers, faculty, and staff for input.
    • Talk with department chairs to find out who is currently taking advisees.
    • If you’re really stuck, or if your tutorial adviser is going on leave, make an appointment in Academic Advising Office for additional support.
  2. Request a meeting
    • Email to request a meeting, and indicate that you’d like to explore the possibility of having them partner as your adviser.
    • There are many reasons why you may get “no” for an answer—mostly related to sabbaticals and other commitments.
  3. Attend the meeting
    • Come prepared with questions that will help you make your decision about whether you want to move forward with this professor as your adviser.
    • Bring a draft of your four-year plan with you OR bring ideas and questions that will help you draft your four-year plan in the meeting or as follow-up.

  1. List some academic areas you’d like to pursue in depth beyond your chosen major
    • This may include courses from a possible concentration or second major
  2. Review the Academic Catalog
    • Pay particular attention to major requirements
    • Read the course descriptions of courses you are required to take and any others you plan to take or are interested in
  3. Select courses
    • Consider working with your current and/or future adviser on this task
    • Pick major courses and map these out on the fouryear plan worksheet
    • Add in other courses to the remaining open slots
    • If planning on doing OCS or a MAP, be aware of those deadlines
    • Be aware that your four-year plan can change over time
    • Keep in mind these numbers
    » 124 credits and 2.0 overall GPA to graduate
    » Maximums: 48 credits in any one department, 92 in any one division

Don’t forget to rely upon your campus partners: Registrar’s Office, Academic Advising Office, your faculty adviser, and other faculty and staff on campus to whom you have formed connections for guidance and support.