Picking A Major: Finding Academic Programs As Unique As You!

“What should I major in?”

This question dominates most students’ minds when thinking generally about “what to do” in college. Your attitude toward your interests, and selecting a college or university that is a good match for your learning style, abilities, and skills is as critical as the financial considerations of going to college!

Today, the largest universities offer hundreds of degrees in programs that range from preparation for graduate school to specialized education in an emerging technology. With all this to choose from, how do you know what to pick?

Most guidance professionals in colleges and high schools will tell you that the average student changes majors three to five times during a four-year degree, and the average working adult makes at least three career changes.

Let’s use the analogy of a career “toolbox”. No matter what you choose, you will need a standard set of tools that will serve you during your working lifetime. This toolbox should include, at minimum: communications skills (critical reading, writing, listening, and public speaking); information management skills (identifying, retrieving, assembling, and presenting data from sources such as libraries, the World-Wide Web, etc.); and human relationship skills (being able to conduct business with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

These tools are considered transferable and essential by most corporations and non-profit agencies throughout the American, and, increasingly, the global workforce. Now, think of your interests. For example, if you are interested in teaching, love geography, are very comfortable with computer software,
and have been playing the trombone for 10 years, you know a lot about yourself!

Your first job is to use any of the common college search guides, such as Peterson’s, Barron’s, Fiske’s, etc. to narrow your choice of schools that offer all of these interests. The CD-ROM technology and on-line services such as CollegeLink or CollegeTown make this process easier. Next, determine
which colleges offer your interests in the form of a major, a minor, a series of elective credits, or non-traditional programs such as self-designed majors.

If you really do want to combine academic areas, such as geography, education, and music, you will want to choose a college where it is normal for students to develop individualized programs. Make sure faculty mentors are involved with course selection, and you can graduate within the time frame you expect. If you really want to teach, but want to keep up with your trombone playing, you may want to consider taking electives in music and “major” in one area.

Finally, understand that you do not have to choose your major or academic area at most colleges until the second, or sophomore, year. Most schools have common freshman requirements that allow for exploring different majors.

If you are interested in so many things that you find it hard to choose, consider that a good thing! Find a school that specializes in integrating your interests into a personalized academic program. See your guidance counselor for advice on picking colleges that offer this option.