College Majors | How to Choose a Major

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College Majors | How to Choose a Major

College Majors

Ever enter your favorite restaurant dying for a hotdog and fries only to have a sizzling burger scream your name from the grill? That's how it is with picking college majors. You start out hungry for an engineering degree, then spot the green clay through an open art class door. Poof! You're an Art major. College major hopping is as common as pizza on college campuses. 

According to Deborah Fargo Schmitt, Associate Director of Admissions, Daemen College, Amherst, NY, nearly 90 percent of all freshmen change their college majors. Why all the switching? 

Peter S. Gold, University of Buffalo's Associate Dean for General Education and Student Services, says, "With more than 100 college majors available, students find opportunities they were unaware of." Students often trudge through a semester or two of classes before discovering an academic menu option best suited to their individual design. Virtually all hops between college majors begin with a poor initial program choice. Some pursue college majors recommended by someone they know, who is financially successful in that field. Some freshmen choose their major based on their favorite TV show. (i.e. "I want to be a teacher because Zooey Deschanel is one on 'New Girl.'") Many perform well in particular high school courses then pursue similar majors in college. Still others blindly accept a standard freshman course load. These poor choices have one common cause: not knowing what we are personally designed to do.


How to Choose a Major

How do you figure out what you're designed to do? Many freshman orientation classes sprinkle in tips to help students target the right field for them. The time saved by reduced college major hopping makes them a worthwhile investment. You'll explore your passions and goals, investigate majors and learn where all the pop machines are. Let’s take a look at how to choose a major. 

Your prospective college's Career Planning and Placement department is another resource. Most offer career workshops, planning seminars or other counseling services to help steer you toward a rewarding education path. Most counselors welcome high school students trying to target a major. There are also Undeclared Major programs that let you earn credits while investigating varied disciplines. Daemen College's program even assigns an advisor to guide students through the freshman year and pinpoint how to choose a major. 

Campus Majors and Career Fairs are two tools that can help shed light on how to choose a major that fits your interests and aptitudes.  Major fairs bring you face-to-face with department reps and students eager to share what they know about their programs. Although career fairs may seem better suited to graduating students, meeting corporate reps may unearth interests you never considered. You'll also find out what college majors open doors to those careers. College Websites and Online college search services are like desktop career path vending machines. 

The Princeton Review's online service includes its 24 question "Birkman Method Career Style Summary." This point-and click checklist digests your answers then churns out an instant assessment of your personal interests and style. The assessment's long list of career choices is then used to investigate college majors. The College Board's online "Career Questionnaire," offers similar guidance for students who aren’t sure how to choose a major.

One overlooked resource is right around the corner: your local community college. These academic buffets offer bargain priced tastes of virtually every program available at top universities - and you can live at home for free. Community colleges let you select courses across several disciplines, buying only the classes you want. Considering a teaching or art career, but still have sawdust dreams about carpentry? Fill your first semester cart with freshman English, a basic drawing course and toss in Woodworking 101. Voila´! You nail an English requirement, measure your artistic talent and become one with a chunk of oak. That's three career options explored in one semester. 

Liberal arts schools offer a more traditional self exploration option. Although not as flexible as a community college, the breadth of courses available at a Liberal Arts school lets you fill prerequisites while pursuing diverse interests. College Advisor Pamela Roth, Allendale Columbia School, Rochester, N.Y., steers undecided students toward a Liberal Arts college that fits them. She adds, "I recommend our students gather skills and experiences, pursue internships and study abroad," - anything that applies to the post-graduation "real world." Choosing a major doesn't have to be a major pain. Most institutions don't require you to declare until your sophomore year. 

Take your time. Enroll in personal assessment programs, talk with counselors and attend seminars. The wealth of available programs will steer you down just the right academic path. Before you come away thinking, "If I can't pick a major I'm doomed," remember, you're part of the 90 percent who are taking an active role in shaping their own future.


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