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What’s in a major?

By Mitchell Lipton, Board Chair and Co-Founder of Dabima; Director of College Guidance, the Frisch School


One of the most common concerns I hear from my high school students who are starting to explore colleges is that they are unsure about their intended major (let alone their long-term career paths). This is what I typically tell them (and their parents if they ask)! 

First, just because you are good at a specific subject in school doesn't necessarily mean you want to pursue that in college and beyond.  At this stage of life, it is very common to be undecided about your intended major in college.

Step #1 is to explore. Exploring is just that -- a way to learn more -- no commitment required. A little research can go a long way.

Review required courses for a given major 

One of the most overlooked ways to better understand what you might be pursuing in college is to visit institutional websites to find the required courses for a given major. Let's use psychology as an example.  Do the classes seem appealing to you? Most colleges publish their school catalog on their website, which will provide descriptions of courses offered.   In addition, it can be very helpful to better understand the focus or specific ways that an individual college or university might teach a specific major or discipline. Psychology is a good example because some colleges might be more research and experimental-based, and others might focus more on counseling.

If you visit the departmental websites you will likely find an overview or mission statement which outlines the overall approach and departmental philosophy.  Often in this area, the departments will highlight what students will achieve by majoring in a specific discipline.  If you still have questions after reviewing the college's website, it is best to reach out to the admissions office or the academic department directly. Their contact information is often available on the college's website.

It can also be helpful to ask the college what types of careers are available for students who might major in a specific area. Those questions can be directed to not only the academic or admissions offices but also those who work in career development or the career center.

Research professional associations

If you are interested in learning more about a specific profession, you can also see if there is a professional association tied to that specific industry.  Interested in learning more about career paths and psychology? ... check out the American Psychological Association. Interested in learning more about becoming an architect?...visit the American Institute of Architects website. Many professions will have information available to you that can help you better understand the ways to become a professional in that field. 

Talk to trusted sources 

I always recommend speaking with your school counselor or a trusted source to see if they have recommendations. I also encourage you to speak with people who might work in the areas that you are interested in to ask about the path they took and if they have any suggestions for you.

What you learn can apply to many fields 

In addition, most majors that you pursue in college offer you valuable opportunities to develop critical skills that can lead to various career paths. Communicating effectively by writing and speaking will help you in most professions. Even if you don't major in computer science or data analytics having a background in that area honed by taking even a handful of courses in college, could make you desirable to a number of industries.

A commonly held misconception is that certain majors can limit your career choices.  For example, studying philosophy or history does not mean that you must pursue becoming a philosopher or a historian. Again, having the ability to think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively, and work in teams, can only help you seek out a multitude of professions.

Regardless of the major that you pursue in college, it is also very important to realize that many students will use graduate school as the time to focus more specifically on a profession. One can major in any number of degrees as an undergraduate student yet still pursue many different graduate programs later in life.

One final note to consider. It is very common for students to change their major while in college, so it is also okay to shift gears if there is something else you feel drawn to. Use your college years wisely to learn more about yourself from a personal, spiritual, and academic perspective.

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