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Students studying behind Meyer Library. Credit: Linda A. Cicero

Choosing Courses For Your Major

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Each major or field of study is structured differently. Whether you have already declared a major or are exploring various possibilities, it is helpful to learn about the requirements for that major as you begin to choose courses for upcoming quarters.

Exploring Majors

Not sure yet what you want to major in?  The page can be a great place to start!  Here you can find a quick synopsis of each major.  Each department also has its own website with details about the major if you'd like to do a deeper dive.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to settle on a major until the end of sophomore year.  But if you already have a strong interest in a particular field, you can start taking a look at major requirements.

Finding Out Your Major Requirements

To find requirements for a particular major, visit the Stanford Bulletin and click on Programs. In the search bar, type in the name of the major (e.g. “Sociology”).  You will see several different degree options for that field of study.  Click on either the Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) option, then scroll down to "Degree Requirements" to see the requirements for that major.

In addition to the Bulletin, you can also find major requirements listed in other places.  Individual department websites often list their major requirements on one of their subpages.  The School of Engineering has also gathered information on all of its majors into an online resource called the Engineering Undergraduate Handbook.  The requirements should be the same across all these sites, but are sometimes explained in a more accessible way in one place versus another.

Not sure how to interpret these requirements?  You can discuss this in a meeting with your Academic Advisor!

Sequencing your courses

For some majors (not all), sequencing is important: you may have to take certain courses in order, or complete certain courses first as a prerequisite for more advanced courses.  This can vary a lot depending on what major you've chosen.

To find out if you need to take courses in a certain order, look up individual required courses in ExploreCourses and read the course description carefully.  If the course has prerequisites, they will be noted there.  

You may want to draft a tentative four-year plan so that you can map out how you will approach your major requirements.  Drafting a four-year plan is often a necessary part of the major declaration process, and can help you see what future quarters will look like. See also our presentation on Four Year Planning (Note you need to be logged into your Stanford Account to access the presentation).

Not all course are offered every quarter, and some courses may not be offered this year.  Be sure to check ExploreCourses, and talk to the department's Student Services Officer if you have questions.

Additional Considerations

  • Once you've declared a major, you will also have a major advisor (some departments assign major advisors and some ask you to find your own major advisor during the declaration process).  While you will continue to work with your Academic Advisor on general academic issues and overall progress towards graduation, it's worth meeting with your major advisor regularly to get detailed guidance about major requirements and courses within the department. See our page on Connecting with Faculty.
  • You may even want to consider taking classes with your major advisor to help build a strong working relationship.
  • The Director of Undergraduate Studies, the Student Services Officer, and the peer advisors in your major department can also be very helpful. They can advise you about how best to shape the major according to your interests. 
  • As you progress within the major, it's worth reading faculty profiles on the department website to explore faculty research and find professors who teach classes that coincide with your interests.
  • If you intend to participate in a professor's research project, or to do your own independent project, honors thesis, or senior capstone project, prepare yourself by selecting classes that give background knowledge and can teach you the necessary methodology and research skills.

See Also