Focusing On Academics: Choosing A Major

With the average college graduate changing jobs once every three years and switching career fields two or three times in his or her lifetime, your student faces a career marketplace filled with opportunity as well as challenge.

Your student may have already declared a major or still may be exploring options.  Regardless of which stage describes your student, he or she can benefit from considering the following:

Undeclared Major? Don't Worry

During the first two years, it is common for students to explore several academic areas before settling on a major. This process enables them to sample various fields of study while still fulfilling core requirements. At the end of the second year, students are asked to formally declare their majors and minors.

At one time, the status of being an undeclared major made parents uncertain as to whether their student was ready for college. But today, this viewpoint is no longer true. If it is done early, switching majors should have little effect on a student's anticipated graduation date. However, in some cases a student may have to delay graduation, attend summer school or take a few "heavy load" semesters.

If your student is struggling with picking a major, it may be helpful for her or him to read the 10 Biggest Mistakes in Picking a Major.

Misconceptions about Picking a Major

  • Picking a major and a profession are the same thing.
  • Graduate school studies are based on undergraduate studies.
  • Certain majors are career limiting.

While the above statements may be misconstrued as truth by some students, it is important for them to view an undergraduate degree as being one component of career development. At BW our liberal arts-based programs help students become proficient in focused areas of study as well as in compatible career fields.

Similarly, a student's undergraduate major may or may not be related to his or her graduate-level studies. While some pre-professional degree disciplines may have common undergraduate fields of study, students should view their undergraduate degrees as being their preliminary areas of focus rather than their only areas of focus.

Finally, students are encouraged to pick majors and minors based on their aptitude, skills and levels of interest rather than on preconceived ideas of how marketable certain degrees may be or how popular they may be among peers. After all, in addition to their fields of study, it is the insights, skills and experiences students have that will prepare them for their careers. In fact, studies show that within ten years of graduation, most individuals are working in careers that aren't directly related to their undergraduate majors.

Important Considerations for Picking a Major

Working with an academic advisor and a career services advisor, your student can begin exploring options and preparing for sophomore year. Regardless of whether or not your student has declared a major and minor, he or she can benefit from  the following:

Step One: Do a Self-Assessment

  • What types of subjects and activities interest and excite me?
  • What are my hobbies and co-curricular interests?
  • What aptitudes and skills do I have?
  • What do I envision myself doing in a job?
  • What would give me a sense of career fulfillment?
  • What type of work environment do I seek?
  • How committed am I to service initiatives, environmental sustainability and other issues?
  • Would I enjoy working alone or with people?
  • Is the current economy or job market influencing my decision of a major?
  • Is my choice based on the perceived easiness or rigor of a particular major?

Step Two:  Explore Options

After reviewing your self-assessment answers, you should begin researching the fields of study that best match your interests, proficiencies, values, personality traits and other relevant issues.  BW's Office of Career Services has a wealth of resources that can help you explore options.

Step Three:  Meet With Others

Discuss your options with your academic advisor and a Career Services advisor as a way to narrow and further solidify your choice. They can assist you in looking at the coursework you would need, the co-curricular activities that would complement a particular field of study, and other  opportunities. In addition, they can answer questions related to graduate school and career opportunities.

Step Four:  Make Plans

At this stage, you are ready to make decisions and to take action. However, keep an open mind and don't feel too badly if next semester you change your mind. The most important thing is to make the right choice.