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Choosing a Major

Some students enter college with a very clear idea about a major. A student who had a good experience in a high school Accounting course decided to train for that profession. A student who had been singing since the age of ten had many voice teachers encouraging her to major in Music and become a professional singer. Another student is an avid baseball fan and reader of newspaper sports columns; he wrote for his high school paper and dreams of writing for Newsday. One student's father and uncle are both dentists; she sees dentistry as a family tradition. While each of these students has a clear idea about the future, the majority of incoming freshmen have not yet decided on a career path, and so they enter college "Undeclared." For them, choosing a major may take two years. But that's just fine. During those two years "Undeclared" majors will have many opportunities to study in fields that might potentially become their majors.

Let's suppose you are one of these "Undeclared" students. How can you test your interests in order to decide on a major and prepare for a career? Here are some basic suggestions.

  • If you were particularly strong in a particular subject in high school--English, or Mathematics, for example--continue taking that course in college to see where advanced study in that discipline might lead.
  • If you always wanted to study a subject but did not have the opportunity to do so in high school, try it during your first year in college.
  • Talk to your professors. They will be able to tell you more about what professional opportunities you might have with a major in Political Science, Psychology or Chemistry. A Chemistry major might teach, work in industry, do research, sell chemical products and equipment, do forensic investigations, or work for an environmental group. There are scores of opportunities for majors of every kind.
  • Read the undergraduate bulletin. As you learn about departments and their course offerings, something may catch your eye as particularly interesting. Try it!
  • Go to Merit Fellowship lectures and other lectures held on campus that may seem interesting. There you will meet speakers from all different professions. Their work might be an inspiration.
  • Go through PEP (Professional Experience Placement) training and get a part time job in a setting that has potential interest for you. Working in a field might establish your commitment and help you focus on a major.
  • Do volunteer work in a setting that interests you. As you learn more about the background of professionals in that area, you may find the right major for yourself.
  • Talk to your friends. Learn more about their majors and their plans. They might have some very good ideas.
  • Talk to your parents and to family members, uncles, aunts and cousins. They might be very happy in careers they have chosen and might give you some ideas for yourself.
  • Know yourself and know your limitations. If you don't feel comfortable about making life and death decisions, you probably shouldn't consider medicine or law enforcement. If you get ill under stress, forget the idea of becoming a stock market broker. If you hate money (just a joke) business is not for you. Seriously, your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes should play an important role in choosing a major.
  • Learn something about projected job markets. For example, there is a profound shortage of scientists in America. Therefore, if you have an aptitude or interest in a scientific field you can be sure that a job will be waiting when you graduate. We also know that America is projecting a serious shortage of teachers for all grades, K through college, over the next decade. That means you can prepare for teaching and be fairly certain to find a job. One recent study indicates that a law degree has become preferable to an MBA for people training in business management. If that is a direction you are considering, you can choose any major that interests you and prepares you for critical thinking and written expression. Philosophy, English, Political Science are some examples of majors suitable for Pre-Law.

Make a check list and begin to ask questions. Once you have some idea of the right direction for you, declare a major. It is always better to be walking in some direction than walking around in circles. Begin to head in the direction that seems right, and if it is not, be prepared to change your major. Many students change majors a few times before they actually find the path to their future. Even students who enter with a clear major in mind may change their minds when they experience another, more exciting possibility. Don't be afraid to experiment. Your career will be one of the most important components of your adult life. Take time to consider it carefully and enjoy the complicated process of getting there.