Some students come to college knowing what they want to major in. Others need time to explore the major that’s best for them. My experience has been that about half of all freshman change majors while they are in college.
In this message, I’d like to share with you some thoughts I have on the selection of a major. I’ll start with some general statements that I find that help students make wise decisions in thinking about a major. I’ve written my comments as if I were talking to students. I hope that you can share these thoughts with your student.
- Don’t be influenced by current fads – So many students select a major based on what they see on TV or some popular media.
- Be realistic about what graduates in the major do – Some majors sound glamorous, but the reality is that only a few people’s careers ever fit the image of the career.
- Find a major where you can be a success – Some students attempt a major where the requirements are going to be a real struggle.
- Find a major that can last you for a lifetime. Students’ interests are likely going to change over time. When they pick a major based on a young person’s interests, they may find that interest fading as they get older. The message I share with students is that there are only a few Mick Jaggers.
- Don’t pick a major based upon what others want you to do – I’ve seen many students be unduly influenced by friends and family in their selection of a major.
- Select a major that will give you the flexibility to pursue a variety of careers. Some majors are very limiting with respect to career paths. Students who select these majors must be really sure that they are comfortable in the major.
- Base your decision on what you like not on what you don’t like – Too many students make career decisions based upon negative perceptions that may not be accurate. Often they don’t explore career options that may be good for them because of these false impressions.
- Find a career that will build on your strengths but yet challenge you as well – careers can be boring if there is no challenge.
Most campuses have a counseling center or career center that can help students find a major. These campus resources often have testing resources that can also be useful.
As your student explores a major, I suggest they do the following:
- Talk with juniors/seniors in the major. Students often have the best information on such things as program quality, career prospects, faculty support, etc.
- Spend time shadowing someone who graduated with the major and has a career that is related to the major.
- Talk with faculty in the major. The degree that faculty show an interest in your selection decision is a good indication of the support you will receive once you are in the major.
Don’t be surprised if your student goes through several majors before deciding on one. In some cases, your student may even find dual majors to be of interest. Generally most students have settled on a major by the end of their freshman year.
Let me close with the story of Jessica. Jessica is a Chinese-American student who was having difficulty with the English language when I first met her as a freshmen. She had a terrible first semester. During her second semester, I arranged for Jessica to have a tutor. I don’t think I’ve ever known a student who worked harder to improve her grades than Jessica. Unfortunately her grades didn’t get better. Initially I thought Jessica’s difficulties were language related, but her language skills got better and her grades didn’t. In the fall of Jessica’s sophomore year, I decided to have a conversation with her about her career when we met to do her advising.
Both Jessica and I arrived at the same conclusion. Her current major just wasn’t for her. I asked her if she had thought about another major. She had. She decided she wanted to go into Art. That’s a difficult major to get accepted into. I asked Jessica if she had a portfolio. She had a big smile on her face when she said “I do, would you like to see it?”
What Jessica showed me was incredible. I looked at her and apologized. I told her that we should have had this conversation much earlier.
Once Jessica transferred to Art, she would occasionally stop by my office to show me her work. She was doing beautiful sketches, and her grades had improved tremendously. Most important, she was happy. Currently Jessica graduated from a very prestigious art school and is on her way to a career that takes advantage of her natural talents.