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  • Choosing a Major

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    There are two reasons to choose a major: to prepare for a specific field or job, or to immerse yourself in a subject that fascinates you.

    Some students choose a major because it will prepare them for a specific career path. Career–focused majors include engineering, business, education or nursing. If you are committed to a vocation, majoring in it will give you specific, practical skills that will be directly applicable to your post–graduation career.

    Other students choose a major simply because they love the subject matter. If you choose this path, you may pursue a career that has little to do with what you studied in college. That doesn't mean you'll graduate without skills, however. For example, most history majors don't become historians, but they do graduate with critical thinking and writing abilities that are highly valued by employers.

    Here are some ideas on how to start your search for the right major:

    Forget high school. College is a whole new ball game. Subjects you hated as a high school student might turn out to be completely different in a new educational setting. In other words, don't automatically rule anything out, even if you don't think it's for you. Give everything at least a small chance. You never know.

    Make the most of the general education courses you're required to take. Don't just pick whatever's easiest; choose ones that appeal to you, even if they are upper–level courses. You don't yet know what will really compel you. Have your radar on for clues that might be pointing you in new directions.

    Talk to your advisors. They know what it takes to tackle certain academic disciplines. Tell them your strengths and your interests. They'll be able to highlight courses that might excite you as well as classes that are popular with other students. A great class on nihilism may be the thing that gets you to declare a philosophy major.

    Check the syllabus. What are the assignments? The books? The requirements? Does the material seem compelling to you? If you start nodding off while reading the course catalogue, perhaps it's best to cross that field off your list.

    Ask upperclassmen. They are the real experts at your college, and they have faced the daunting task of declaring a major themselves. Older students can tell you the questions they considered and how they went about finding the answers.

    Engage professionals in fields you find interesting. Ask them exactly what their jobs entail and how their careers do (or don't) relate to their majors. Learning about the paths others took to get where they are is often valuable and enlightening, and even more often, surprising.

    The bottom line is that your major does not determine your life. You should choose a subject that interests you and that has some connection to the post–collegiate life you want to build for yourself. But keep the decision in perspective; you can always change careers or go back to school.

  • Ask an Educational Advisor