Expert advice on picking a college major
For graduating seniors, the excitement of completing the college application process and heading off to school just can’t be matched. But often, the excitement ends where the anxiety about choosing a major — and the big life questions that come with it — begins. In their new book, “The Secrets of College Success,” college professors Jeremy S. Hyman and Lynn F. Jacobs share their tips for students looking for the right college major for them.
Take a minute.
Upon entering college, many students are encouraged to declare a major right away, but according to Hyman, that isn’t necessary. “We recommend the following: don’t major at the door!” she says. “I don’t think picking a major is all that important and I think when possible, it’s good to delay.”
Take advanced courses.
Many schools offer introductory courses that are watered-down introductions to the college as a whole. Therefore students don’t really get a sense of what the major is like until they take advanced courses, according to Hyman. “When possible we think it’s best to test the waters,” she says, “especially if you can take one or two upper division courses before putting down your quarter.”
Go with what you love.
It’s important to pick something you’re interested in, but many students have varied interests and have trouble when focusing on just one course of study. “A lot of students like to double and even triple major and sometimes add a minor or two as well,” says Hyman. “This can be a good idea if the majors have some relation to each other, but we think a far better idea is that you have a primary interest.”
According to Hyman, when picking a major, you are committing yourself to 10 or 12 required courses, so picking two majors — especially ones that don’t relate to each other — can be a tough venture.
Don’t focus too much on the money.
“When you major in something, especially [when it is an] undergraduate major that is followed by graduate school,” says Hyman, “you’re having to pick a career 10 years ahead of yourself and what you think will be good 10 years from now.”
Hyman urges students to use caution when thinking so far ahead, because high-paying career choices can change, and so can the interests of the student. “When picking the major, the student should be an educated consumer and to use the sources available rather than just lunging at something because they’ve done it before.”
Your major and your career don’t always have to be the same thing.
Of course there are fields such as a health care and information technology that require specific training and Hyman says it makes sense to match your major to a career. However, she says that picking a major is not the end-all, be-all decision.
“What businesses complain about most when they hire people is not that they have the wrong major,” Hyman says, “but that they have bad writing, analytical or interpersonal skills.” Furthermore, Hyman says that there is no real rush. “Students think when they pick a major they’re locked in for life to that major and that career. Beginning students should realize that at many colleges it’s extremely easy to change a major.”
No clue what to do?
Don’t panic. According to Hyman, it is best to ask other people what they’re doing and how they like it. “Take more courses, talk to more people, don’t panic. College is a five or six or seven year expedition.”
Follow Julie Kayzerman on Twitter @juliekayzerman