Help! I’m Clueless about a College Choice and Future Major

Question: I just started 11th grade, and I know its a little early to be worrying about my future but I would like to have at least some idea of what I’m going to be doing. I have ZERO idea of what I want to major in or what college I want to go to. I would love to do something in the arts department because I’m a dancer and actress and singer (basically a performer) but it’s not a practical thing to major in (and my parents would never let me). I happen to have a talent with doing people’s makeup, but I cant exactly make a living off of that. if you could help me that would be amazing. Thank you!

The “Dean’s” crystal ball puts you at a liberal arts college (or in a liberal arts program within a university). As you probably already know, “liberal arts” schools aren’t necessarily liberal (some, in fact, can be quite conservative), and many students may not take a single art class in four years. But what the term really means is that freshmen don’t enter into a specific “pre-professional” program (e.g., engineering, pharmacy, physical therapy …). Instead, they start out by choosing courses from a broad range of fields and then eventually (by the beginning of junior year) choose a “major.”

But even once the student selects the major, it doesn’t mean that he or she is limited to that field alone. A typical student at a typical liberal arts college takes about 32 classes during the college career. (This breaks down into roughly four classes per semester, two semesters per year over four years). And a typical major requires somewhere between 10 and 12 courses. So this means that, even if you are taking about a third of all your courses in your major, you can still take two-thirds OUTSIDE OF your major if you wish. (And, for many majors, you can take a few classes from different departments that still “count” toward your major. For instance, an English major would probably get credit toward the major by taking “European Drama” from the theater department or “Latin American Literature in Translation” from the Spanish department.)

So even if you end up majoring in a field that your parents would call “practical” (economics, education, etc.) you could take classes offered by the theater, music, and dance departments. So, when it’s time to choose a college, try to pick one that offers classes–as well as performance opportunities–in those areas and which welcome non-majors. Such colleges aren’t tough to find.

Next, add your other preferences to the list (size, location, campus climate, etc.) along with your likelihood of acceptance and affordability. All of this will help you to narrow down your choices. College Confidential’s SuperMatch is a great place to start. You can pick the factors that are most important to you and even decide how crucial they are … “Kinda” important, “Very,” or “Must have.” See http://www.collegeconfidential.com/college_search/

Regardless of the classes you’re in and of the major you select, most colleges offer tons of opportunities to take part in theater and vocal productions. If you enjoy doing make-up and think that you’re good at it, almost every theater department would LOVE to have you on board to help out with the plays. And did you know that, for the majority of liberal arts majors, the first job out of college is more likely to be linked to an extracurricular activity than to the major? Thus, even if you end up deciding on a parent-pleasing major, your make-up experience outside of class time could actually lead you to some wonderful job opportunities after graduation doing make-up for professional theaters or even in Hollywood.

So, don’t fret about not yet having your future already mapped out. A liberal arts college can be a great way to test the waters in many academic areas, to find time to pursue your passion for performing arts, and make-up, and even to keep Mom and Dad content by picking a major that they’ll approve … even if it isn’t ultimately a stepping stone on your career path.

Happy hunting!

(posted 9/6/2012)