Choose a Major

THE MAJOR MYTH:

Most college students think a corresponding academic major exists for
each specific career field, and it's impossible to enter most career fields
unless they choose that matching major for undergraduate study. This is
not true!

THE REALITIES:

The relationship of college majors to career fields varies. Obviously,
some career choices dictate that you choose a specific undergraduate major.
If you want to be a nurse, you must major in nursing. Engineers major
in engineering. Architects major in architecture. There is no other way
to be certified as a nurse, engineer, or architect. However, most career
fields don't require a specific major, and people with specific majors
don't have to use them in ways most commonly expected.

Most college majors don't offer specific preparation for a single type
of work. Instead, they educate you and help (along with your activities,
work, etc.) make up the personal package that can enable you to become
anything you want to be. Majors don't limit you to one type of work.
For example, if you major in nursing, history, engineering, English, or
many other majors, you might nevertheless choose to become a bank manager,
sales representative, career counselor, production manager, or pursue
a number of other career fields. Your awareness of the relationship between
career fields and college majors can play a vital part in your choice
of academic major, minor, and elective courses.

Choice of a major is only one factor in determining your future job prospects
and career path. Your grades, the electives you choose, and the skills
you acquire through your course work often tell employers more about what
you have to offer them than does your major. Furthermore, other factors
such as your personal traits, your goals, your experiences (jobs, extracurricular
activities, volunteer work, internships, EXTERNships), and your knowledge
of a demonstrated interest in a career field play a large part in determining
an employer's response to you.

GOING BEYOND YOUR MAJOR

Liberal arts majors, in particular, need to offer employers more than
their orientation as a generalist and their broadly based transferrable
skills. They need to develop entry-level marketability and to demonstrate
career field interest. Before they can become bank presidents, they must
first get some job experience within the bank. In most cases a college
major alone is not sufficient for getting a job. The increased number
of college graduates has produced more competition in the job market.

Usually, the easiest way to land that first job is to have a skill that
is immediately useful to the employer. There are many ways to develop
such skills while you are becoming educated: summer or part time work,
intern/EXTERNships, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities,
elective courses, and the like. Once in the field of your choice, you,
as a well educated person, can build your own career and become a generalist,
but careful planning to get your foot in the door is required. To become
competitive in today's market, you need the experience and competencies
related to your chosen fields.

Internships, EXTERNships, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities
provide numerous opportunities for you to gain experience and develop
the competencies required by your career choices. . . .[Y]ou are faced
with the challenging task of discovering better ways to compete in the
employment market, increasing your awareness of employment options and
creating more links between your undergraduate experience and the world
of work. Creating these links requires flexibility, imagination, and divergent
thinking. This can further be accomplished by looking for a combination
of courses and activities that will be rewarding - beginning the exploratory
process early enough to test perceptions of yourself against realities,
avoiding premature commitments or single-minded concentration on one area
of knowledge to the exclusion of other areas. . .

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Many students don't really know what they want out of life. College students
always want to start a session with their advisor with the question, "What
should I major in?" or "What can I do with a major in so-and-so?"
But good advisors know that you can't really start with those questions.
You have to put them aside until you first find out about "What do
I want to be? What do I really want out of my life? What kind of person
am I, so far? Where do I really want to go with myself?"

Perhaps the primary reason first-year students choose the wrong major
is that so many concentrate exclusively on studying for a specific "job,"
as if each job required a certain major. This orientation is especially
powerful among students during uncertain economic times and has been fostered
by the attitudes of parents, employers, government officials, and educators.
Additionally, students often see majors unwisely because they lack sufficient
information about themselves, potential courses of study, jobs and the
job market, and above all about how to combine their education with their
career goals.

[Open Major Advisement] can help you focus on the broader career planning
question of "What do I want to do?" This can lead you to explore
yourself and career fields that provide opportunities for you to achieve
what you want, not only from your college major, but from life as well.
In attempting to answer what you want to do, you'll find that the choice
of an academic major takes on new meaning. You are no longer concerned
with the prescribed route of specific majors. The search becomes one of
finding the best academic program for your chosen career goals.

We can compare this process to map-making. You actually begin to chart
your college career, using your career goals as the basis for decisions
about academic major, minor, elective courses, internships, vacation jobs,
leadership commitments, and extracurricular activities. Instead of looking
at an academic major as a map, view the choice of academic major as one
part of the map you are making in order to reach your chosen career goal.
Don't limit yourself by starting with the question "What can I do
with my major?" and then after reading about what other people with
the same major are doing to earn money, decide without further thought,
to look for the same kind of job when you graduate. How many times have
you heard someone say, "I'm majoring in English so I guess I'll teach"?
If questioned further, this person might not like anything about teaching
except the subject matter. Obviously, this person chose to follow someone
else's map. . .

EVALUATING THE MAJORS/CAREERS YOU ARE CONSIDERING

New first-year students need adequate information about all that a college
has to offer, and they need to know the requirements of the different
programs of study. Just reading the catalog isn't enough, and for the
majority, exposure to a few subjects in high school simply won't serve
to introduce or to interpret the college curriculum, which is a smorgasbord
of specialization (and, often, of obscurity) by comparison. Before you
can make a realistic decision about your major, you must take an informed
look at all the possibilities. . .

*Excerpts (for the use of Open Major Advising) from a
handout titled "Choosing and Using Your Major" from the Career
Planning and Placement Office at the University of Virginia.