The Freshman 15: Choosing a Major

Two years ago, my future seemed completely nebulous. An eager but somewhat lost college freshman, I had no idea what path I wanted to follow. Although I applied to the university as a Journalism major, I knew right away from several years of prior journalism experience that I did not want to pursue it as a career.

Several alternatives stood in front of me — I could become an elementary school teacher, a psychologist or a cultural anthropologist. Or I could major in English, Creative Writing or Humanities (although who knew what I would do with that?).

Fortunately, I entered college with a lot of credits, so I had the option of waiting it out for a while and still graduating on time. Nevertheless, by October of my freshman year, I changed my major to Advertising/Public Relations, where it has firmly remained ever since. Throughout the past two years, I have switched out some of my minors, but for the most part I have been extremely satisfied with my undergraduate major.

For those students who are struggling to find a major, there are ways to narrow it down. (Tweet this!) Hopefully this month’s suggestions will help you to find the area of study that interests you most!

The Freshman 15: Choosing a Major

1. Utilize on-campus resources.
If your school has a Career Services or Experiential Learning Center, make an appointment to speak with one of their counselors! These services are completely free and always worth a shot. The people who work in these places meet countless students in your situation every day, and because of this, they are usually pretty good at helping you along the way. If your school does not have its own equivalent of this office, make an appointment with your undergraduate adviser, who should have some advice or know which direction to point you in.

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2. Take your General Education Program classes.
Not only will this help you weed out those required classes and keep you on schedule, but it will also give you an idea of what you do and don’t like. For example, as soon as I took my Human Species class at the beginning of freshman year, I lost interest in an Anthropology major. In addition, you might absolutely fall in love with your Macroeconomics class and decide that you want to try out a business-related track.

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3. Study the course catalogs and required classes for prospective majors.
You don’t need to memorize these, of course, but it’s always wise to get ahold of a course catalog and bookmark the majors that interest you with post-its. You can then take a deeper look later on and ask yourself, “Does this major require more chemistry classes than I am willing to take?” or “Will I be able to fulfill the required 3-hour internship credit by graduation?” It will also make it easier for you to pick out majors that do feature classes that interest you.

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4. Think about what you wanted to do when you were five.
Although this was never particularly appropriate advice for me personally (when I was five, I wanted to be a princess), I know plenty of people who have wanted to care for others since the beginning of time and have been able to channel that into nursing or education. Did you spend a lot of time with your Easy Bake Oven growing up? Pursue a degree in Restaurant Management! Think about your passions that have remained since you were young and see if they can be cultivated in the professional world.

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5. Take a career aptitude test.
If your Career Services Center can’t refer you to one of these, then the Internet is full of free tests you can take! This step played the most significant role in helping me land on a major that stuck. When I took this test, the three careers that best suited my interests and natural abilities were public relations specialist, public relations manager and advertising copywriter. It just so happened that my school offered an Advertising/Public Relations major (yes, it combines the two disciplines), and when I took my first two intro classes, I immediately fell in love. Don’t let the test results limit you, but see if they shed any light.

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6. Do what you want, not what others expect.
Don’t choose your major based on what you think others will consider an “easy major” or a “hard major.” At the college level, no major is an easy major. You will have to work hard to maintain a competitive GPA, participate in additional activities and network with faculty and professionals your field, regardless of what area you end up in. Similarly, you should not choose a major because you think that others expect you to choose it — otherwise, I would have become an English major! Over the years, I have met so many students who started out in engineering and pre-medical majors because of the pressure placed on them by their parents, instead of because of a love for physics or biology. Those students ultimately switched majors after their GPAs completely tanked. Do what makes you happy… after all, it’s your life!

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7. Take a fun class.
Even if it doesn’t become the basis for your new major, taking a non-required class will broaden your horizons and teach you something you wouldn’t have otherwise learned about! Extra knowledge is never a bad thing, regardless of the discipline it relates to. If the class does spark your interest further, you may have a major in your midst. (Tomorrow I will talk about some of the classes that I found useful!)

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8. Connect with alumni.
My honors college is great at connecting students with alumni, but if you talk to the right people at your university (advisers, professors, counselors, etc.), you can become linked with a former student who can answer your questions about his or her post-college career. Not only is this the perfect networking opportunity, but it also allows you to talk with a professional in the community who has been through the same situations as you have. I have had the same alumni mentor since my freshman year, a public relations professional who has been there to tell me about the right classes to take, the professors to connect with and the pros and cons of the industry. Speaking with someone who was in your shoes once can give you great perspective.

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9. Rule out the majors you don’t want.
When I was floundering around my freshman year, there were a few things I knew for sure. I did not want to be a doctor. I did not want to be an engineer. I did not want to pursue a math/science field. That still left a lot of possibilities open, but it still helped me narrow things down somewhat. Knowing what you don’t want is important when you’re trying to decide what you do want.

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10. Talk to your friends.
If you have a friend whose major sounds interesting to you, ask him or her about it! Find out why your friend chose this major, what he or she wants to do with it after college, what the classes are like and how the professors are. Because my admission to the Advertising/Public Relations program took place just before my sophomore year (it’s a limited access major that you usually enter as a junior), I was able to answer a lot of questions for my friends who were thinking about trying it out. Meanwhile, I declared a Hospitality Management minor during the summer (I will admit that I try on minors the way some girls try on shoes), but before I did so, I was able to ask some of my friends about the program and that helped solidify my decision.

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11. Pursue job shadowing.
If you think you want to work for an ad agency but you aren’t sure if the pace is right for you, talk to your adviser or a Career Services representative and see if you can shadow an account executive for the day or tour a local agency. Seeing the work setting of a prospective career can help you decide, “Can I see myself doing this in the future?” and “Would I want to spend a good chunk of my life in this field?” If so, you’ve just found yourself some new connections and have new goals to set. If not, you’ve continued to narrow down your interests and are that much closer to finding the major of your dreams.

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12. Consider your personal values.
If you think that with a certain major, you will end up in a career that makes you question your moral character, then you should rethink your choices. Don’t choose something for the prestige if it will cause you to sacrifice your sense of self — instead, find something that best fits into your desired lifestyle.

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13. Make a list of interests.
When in doubt, write it out. Seeing your passions on paper might aid in that “a-ha!” moment. You can look at that list and ask yourself, “What careers do these interests fall under?” This will help you find a major that you’re excited about.

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14. Ask the practical questions.
Once you have figured out a potential major or two, you’ll want to find out how marketable those majors are and what types of careers will be available to you upon graduation. Will you have to attend school for an extra two or four years in order to get a job someday? Will you be able to afford graduate school? Will you be able to commit to the amount of time necessary for a required internship in this field? Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you dive in headfirst.

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15. Find a happy medium.
Once you’ve chosen a major, give it some time. It’s possible that you won’t love every minute of it, so be patient. At the same time, don’t stick with a major that makes you miserable when you know that there is something better out there for you. In other words, don’t change your major at the drop of a hat, but keep your mind open and make sure you don’t resent what you’re doing.

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My questions for readers:
– Was it easy for you to choose a major? Why or why not?
– What do you struggle most with when considering a future career?
– What other college-related topics would you like to read about in the future? 

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