Selecting a College Major
Next to choosing a college itself,
selecting a major is the one of the
biggest educational decisions you'll make.
Unfortunately, most students have no idea
how to go about selecting a major, or the
significance of declaring a major.
Figuring out what you're going to major in
can be a daunting and difficult
decision–but it deserves your immediate
attention. Not only will your major
determine what you'll be studying for most
of the time you're in college, it may
determine your future career as well.
The reason that most students select a
major is to prepare for a specific career.
Some of the more common "career" majors
include business, engineering, nursing or
education. For those who know exactly what
they want to do for a career, selecting a
career-focused major makes sense as it
equips them with skills and knowledge
they'll need post-graduation as they enter
the job market.
However, many students–especially first
year students fresh out of high
school–really don't know what it is they
want to do after they graduate. More often
than not these students end up in a major
that has little to do with their future
career. They choose their major simply
because they find the subject matter
interesting and stimulating. For example,
students who major in philosophy don't
become professional philosophers, but they
do acquire critical thinking, analytical,
and problem solving skills that help
prepare them for a number of occupations.
Whichever category you currently fall
into, before selecting a major you should
thoughtfully consider what it is that you
like to study, what you hope to gain from
your college education, and ultimately
what career path you'll pursue once you've
graduated from college. Below we've
provided answers to several questions that
will help you evaluate your options.
When Do I Need to Decide?
The answer to this question is, "it
depends". In most cases you'll have a few
years of general education and core
curriculum courses you'll need to complete
before you can even declare a major. It's
recommended that you make a firm decision
at latest by the beginning of your junior
year since by this point you should be
well into your major and taking advanced
courses and electives. However, there are
advantages to declaring a major sooner.
Many majors, especially those associated
with a specific career path (e.g.
engineering, business, nursing, etc.),
have several prerequisites that must be
completed in order to be accepted into the
major. For example, at many colleges
students are required to complete specific
mathematics, statistics, and physical
science courses before they can declare an
engineering major. At some schools,
engineering students are required to
declare their major the first year to
ensure they complete all prerequisite and
major courses by the time they graduate.
Deciding on a major at the last moment may
drastically reduce your choices and
opportunities. The sooner you can decide
on and declare a major the better off
What Subjects Are You Interested In?
Before choosing a major, take some time to
think about classes you have enjoyed in
the past and consider your personal
interests. Once you have identified what
you're really interested in, review the
majors offered by the college or
university you plan on attending and
identify those majors that match your
interests. If you're struggling to find a
particular major that's in line with your
interests, take some general education or
self exploration courses to see what
subjects you'd be interested in studying
in more depth.
What's the Subject Like?
If you have identified a major or subject
area that interests you, take a few
introductory courses. You may learn you
are really interested in further study or
the subject, or you may discover it's not
for you (and just saved yourself a lot of
work). If you decide not to pursue the
major, in most cases, you can apply the
credits earned toward elective credits
required to complete any major.
What Will the Study Program Involve?
Once you've decided on a major, schedule a
time to meet with an academic advisor that
works with department that oversees your
major. An advisor can answer any questions
you have and provide you with literature
that will give you a more in-depth look at
the major. You'll also want to ask the
advisor about any courses you're required
to complete in before applying to the
program and what you should expect if you
pursue the major.
What Career Opportunities Will it
If you've already decided on a career,
make sure your major will enable you to
reach your career goals. In some cases you
may have to attend graduate school before
entering your desired career.
Career-focused majors provide students the
ability to pursue specific careers upon
completion of their undergraduate degree.
Other majors are oriented toward providing
students with general skills (critical
thinking, writing, analytical, etc.) that
can be applied across a variety of
disciplines. Yet others are intended to
prepare students for entry into a graduate
Is the College I'm Attending the Most
Qualified for My Major?
While the vast majority of colleges and
universities in the United States are
comprehensive in nature offering majors in
hundreds of fields of study, not every
college is going to be strong in every
subject area. Just because a college
offers 300 academic programs, doesn't mean
they're strong in all 300 areas of study.
Chances are, they're not. Make sure you do
your due diligence before you find out
that the college you're attending doesn't
offer a strong major in your career field.
If a college only provides a few courses
in a major, its professors don't have
Ph.D.s or terminal degrees in their
academic discipline, or the department for
your major is only represented by a few
faculty members, chances are the major
lacks quality and depth.
Do I Need to Choose a Traditional
More colleges today are beginning to offer
a larger selection of interdisciplinary
majors and degree programs.
Interdisciplinary majors offer students
the ability and opportunity to focus their
studies in two or more interrelated
disciplines. For example, a B.S. in
Computational Biology incorporates the
study of computer science and biology into
one undergraduate major. However,
interdisciplinary majors can be a mixed
bag. For students who have a clear career
plan for what they want to do after
college, interdisciplinary majors can be
advantageous. For students who do not have
a clear career path and simply want to
study multiple subject areas,
interdisciplinary majors may not be as
beneficial as a more traditional or
focused major. Some college will allow
students to develop their own
major–selecting those courses that either
appeal to them or are in line with their
career goals. These "self design" programs
offer many of the same advantages and
disadvantages as interdisciplinary
What Are the Major Requirements?
As a child you may have enjoyed playing
with an erector set or fiddling with a
transistor radio, but this doesn't
necessarily mean you'll enjoy being a
mechanical or electrical engineer. We've
come across many would-be mechanical and
electrical engineers who thought
engineering was for them until the had to
take three years of advanced mathematics,
physics and statistics courses. At first
glance a major may seem like a lot of fun,
but with a closer look you may realize
it's either way too much work or just not
what you thought it was. Granted, most
majors are going to be challenging. It's
just important that you know what you're
getting into. That way you won't be
surprised and you'll be emotionally and
mentally prepared for the hard work ahead.
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