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Empowering students to fulfill their dreams through education.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Choosing a Major

Choosing a Major
by Kelli Turpin
When I was publishing my last post (the one about Catalog Rights), I realized that we hadn’t yet talked about how to choose a major.  Since I brought it up, I get to talk about the process of choosing a major.  The things I get myself into!


Before you start thinking about a major, think about your career.  You’re in college for a reason, right?  Many times, career choice dictates major choice: you can’t be an engineer without an engineering degree.  Even for those careers that don’t have connected majors, knowing your end goal will help you maintain your motivation, which will in turn keep your grades up, which will improve your chances of getting into the university of your choice, which should lead to graduation and a real job. 
Career-Based Majors
If your career has a connected major, then choosing a major is easy. 
Major (at SDSU for example)
Social Worker
Social Work
Aerospace, Chemical, Civil, Computer, Electrical, Mechanical Engineering (to name a few)
Accountancy, Finance, Financial Systems, Management, Management Information Systems, Marketing, Real Estate
Registered Nurse
Nursing (BSN)

These are just examples, but you get the idea. 
I would highly recommend taking major preparation classes as early as possible to make sure you’re actually interested in the path you’ve chosen.  If you want to major in Business, but find out that you hate Economics, then that could indicate a change of major.  Changing your major during your second semester is not a bad thing – chances are, most of your first semester classes were general education anyway.  Later?  That could get complicated.
Then, there are the careers that don’t have connected majors:
Requirements for Professional School
Medical Doctor
A Bachelor’s degree.  A year of Biology, two years of Chemistry, a year of Physics, a year of Calculus. 
A Bachelor’s degree.  The ability to read, write, and do research
A Bachelor’s degree.  A teaching credential (Multiple Subject for Elementary Education; Single Subject for Secondary Education).

Again, these are examples.  If you’re choosing one of these careers, you have three options. 
  1. Choose based on pre-requisites.  Those specific pre-reqs for medical school (and vet school, dental school, pharmacy school, optometry school) are essentially the same courses that you need as preparation for a Biology major or a Chemistry major.  If you’re good at science and math and you feel confident in your ability to do well in more advanced science and math courses, majoring in one of the sciences might work.  If you’re not that interested in majoring in science, med schools don’t penalize you for majoring in something else – in fact, they like the diversity of thought that humanities and social science majors bring to the field. 
  2. Choose based on specialty.  If you’re going to practice corporate law, major in something related to business.  If you’re going to be a marine animal veterinarian, you could major in zoology or marine biology or oceanography. 
  3. Choose based on what you’re interested in.  You already know where your career’s going, so you should know what’s involved in getting there.  If grades matter, then taking classes that you actually want to take will result in higher grades.
Interest-Based Majors
Note: this works for Associate degrees only to the extent that you’re going to transfer for a Bachelor degree – or when your job wants a degree, any degree, for promotion purposes.  Reality check: an Associate degree in English isn’t going to open the door to many career paths without a higher degree.  An Associate degree in Nursing, however, will get you a job.
When the career you’ve chosen doesn’t dictate your choice of major, or if you’re hoping that studying what you love will lead you to the perfect career, you’ve broadened your choices considerably.  Suddenly, you’ve gone from one choice – Accounting – to an entire bookshelf full of catalogs.  This may be overwhelming.  How do you choose?
  1. Pick a University (or three)

Univ of Hamburg by Merlin Senger

This could be based on proximity – you live down the street from University X.  Or prestige – you’ve always wanted a degree from University Y.  It could be based on teaching/learning style – you take one class at a time instead of four.  It could be based on schedule – they offer classes that work around your life.  You could choose because a certain scholar teaches at that university.

  1. Read through the catalog.
No, I’m not telling you to start at page 1 and work your way through 500 pages of dense text, reading every word.  Look at the upper division courses (usually courses numbered 300 or 400) and note the courses that pique your interest.  A department that has more than 10 courses that make you go “ooh, that sounds fun,” should make your list.

If there’s only one major on that list, you’re good to go.  If more than one major fascinates you, with 10 courses or more, consider a double major, realizing that those extra ten classes are going to take you an extra year to complete, or an advanced degree, which will usually take you another two to five years (or more).  If you’ve found a few majors with four or five courses, some colleges allow an “Interdisciplinary” or do-it-yourself major, where you mix and match.  If one major pulls you (10 courses) and one kind of interests you (5 courses), you’ve got a major and a minor.
  1. Follow the money
If you’re fascinated by more than one major and you don’t want to take the extra year to finish it, follow the money.  The Wall Street Journal’s “From College Major to Career” database lists unemployment numbers for each major listed, earnings at the 25th, median, and 75th percentiles (translation: early career, mid career, late career salaries), and popularity of that major.  Click on your chosen majors and see which one will let you a) become and remain employed and b) earn the most money.

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