Choose the Right Major

Edited by Julia Moliere, Eng, Doug Collins, VC

There comes a time in every college student's life when they have to face the dreaded question: "What do you want to major in?" it echoes back to a question many of us heard frequently as we were growing up. It's like that question we all get asked as we're growing up, "What do you want to be when you grow up" is suddenly actually expecting a serious answer. We weren't really expected to have a solid answer then, but now it's the most important question of our college career, and quite possibly the rest of our lives. When it comes to making that decision most of us are still more than a little lost, but we know that we have to figure out where we're going in life. We're going to go into some techniques and tactics you can use to figure out your major, as well as alleviate some fears and misconceptions you may have had about the whole process.

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    Don't rush your decision. To start with, if you haven't actually gotten into college, don't try to choose a major. Your first year or two of college allows you the freedom to select a diverse set of classes and attempt to determine which field suits you best. Don't be afraid of it hurting your application process, colleges in general don't count not knowing your major against you, and Liberal Art Colleges positively prefer those who haven't tried to decide their career path yet.
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    During the first year or two of college, you're going to want to touch as many different fields as possible while getting your basic requirements met. You'd be surprised how your passions may tie into differing fields, and come up with unique and innovative ways for those fields to come together. This time is a time for experimentation, dive in and taste all you can.
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    But don't wait too long! One of the major things that prevents people from stepping into the career path they want if they haven't selected right away is the financial angle. It's not time to be concerned unless you haven't quite figured out what you're trying to accomplish by your Junior year. At that point unless you've got a fairly hefty fund to see you through college, it's definitely time to decide on a major and stick to it. Remember the things that you enjoyed your first couple years in college, and select on from there.
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    If you just came seem to bring your mind around to it, it may be time for a break. You can always go back to college to finish your education after a year or two break, and this time can give you the opportunity to do further research and really think about what made you passionate about your education. Given enough time, you'll figure out what you want to do. We all know that money isn't infinite, whether you're getting financial aid or relying on grants, so don't let the feeling that you must finish it now get in the way of using that money wisely.
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    Remember that not all majors are equal. There are definitely some exceptions to the 'wait to choose a major' concept. If you intend on getting into the medical field, you need to decide this early on. There are a large number of foundational classes that must be taken to build your way up towards the more advanced aspects of the medical field. It has been the advisement of many a medical student that there is little that can prepare you for organic chemistry, but getting an early start on mastering the fundamentals is your best bet.So when you're researching which major to start, make sure you know exactly what you're getting yourself into, and determine how much time you really have before you have to grab hold of that educational track and hang on tight. Thankfully these kinds of career paths are relatively few and far between, but there's little as frustrating as realizing your options have closed on a path you really wanted to pursue.
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    Do what you're passionate about. No matter what you decide on, the most important part of your major is that it is something you are passionate about. This is why you need to be open to changing your major if you choose one early on. This is something you are dedicating a fair amount of time and money too, and there's nothing worse than having spent 8 years learning a skill set you have no interest in using. The tragedy of many students education is that they focus on what they believe will make them the most money, which any educator will tell you is the worst possible metric to choose a life by.
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    Leave your options open. Don't feel like you necessarily need to know what you want to do with your life to choose a major, however. Simply choosing a field you feel yourself particularly drawn to is an excellent start. No matter the field, there are a myriad of directions you can go with it, and dozens of career paths that fall under the auspices of any given over-arching major. Even Computer Science has several dozen fields under it, including Artificial Intelligence development, network systems, and many different programming languages with different applications.
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    Find out where they offer this major. One aspect of selecting a Major we haven't discussed yet can be a significant impediment to certain potential students. So while you're researching the major you want to take, be sure to keep in mind where it's being offered, and the quality and reputation of the schools that offer these classes. This can narrow down the number of options you have significantly, which can be a positive or negative, depending on your perspective.
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    When you're looking at where the major is offered, be sure to also check into what areas of that major they specialize in. A major isn't a definition of a career, but rather an overarching skill set that you can utilize in the pursuit of any number of careers. You'd be surprised the places that majoring in philosophy and ethics will get you, but you have to make sure you're going to a school that will provide the best education in that major to get you where you want to go.
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    Then there's the road less travelled by - creating your own major. If you are truly blazing your own trail, you may find yourself with a dearth of choices where colleges are concerned. You may not be able to find a single college that truly suits what you want to pursue in your life. This can come up often for those who are innovative thinkers who have a very clear idea of what they want to do with their life already. If you're finding a lack of suitable colleges affecting your choice of majors, it's time to look into schools that let you design your own and give you the flexibility to create an accredited and respectable curriculum.
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    Understandably you're going to find the majority of colleges with this form of curriculum leaning heavily towards the liberal arts, but that doesn't mean they can't help you out where the hard sciences are concerned. It isn't necessary to design the entire degree with these colleges either, sometimes a single quarter or semester class will help you round out the education and experience you're going for.
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    Real life examples include students taking a summer to research the brewing techniques in and around Germany to implement in the micro-brewery they were looking at opening up. The degree in question was focused on the necessary sciences involved, but learning the crafts from centuries old breweries help bring things around. Another example is an architect who spent the summer in an eco-village getting hands on experience with environmentally conscience building materials and practices to aid in starting his business when she finished her degree.
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    Network with others who chose this major. Networking is extremely important, there are people out there who have already walked the road you're considering. If you're wise, you'll talk to them about what it was like, whether they started out on that road and how much they enjoy what they're doing now. Some people start down the path to a major not realizing that there are going to be places in it that they absolutely despise, and in some cases actually find themselves hating the very subject. Talking to those who have been there is perhaps the best of all possible choices.
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    There are often social groups available through the college if you've already selected one, and sitting in on classes is always an option. Never underestimate the availability of the alumni from the college, many of them are excited to talk to potential new members of their chosen field, and can give you a realistic look not just at the college experience, but what you can expect to see after you get out of College. In the short run it could keep you from making a mistake in your choice of classes, in the long run they may wind up being a valuable contact when it comes time to turn your college education into a profitable career.
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    Think about how heavy the load is. Each major comes with its own ups and downs, and in some cases the workload required can be a serious impediment to those wanting to walk this path. Some majors are easier than others, simply by the nature of the work and study you're going to be required to do. This is why networking with others is so important, a simple glance at the required classes isn't going to truly give you a measure of the work load. Credit hours only take so much into account.
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    If you're going to be pursuing fields that involve research or working with people in therapeutic situations, there's going to be an entire extra dimension to your experience that isn't accounted for in mere credit hours. For any kind of social work, you're going to be looking at extensive hours of social work that will be quite literally like taking a job while you're going to school. This is especially problematic if you're already doing that.
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    Research based programs will have you performing research almost from the moment you set foot on campus. Even community college level botany classes will have you studying the behavior and life cycle of the flora found on and around your campus. Once you move into graduate school you can expect this workload to become even more intense.
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    These are just a few of the things to take into consideration when trying to settle on a major. It's an important decision, and will theoretically set the path for the rest of your working career. Taking these guidelines into account will give you a solid start to your educational experience, and will make sure you know what the road ahead holds.
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Categories : Communications & Education

Recent edits by: Doug Collins, Eng, Julia Moliere

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