Category Archives: Choosing a major

Handling Holiday Questions with Ease!

Soon to be college students and those in college, here are a few thoughts on how to handle the questions of “What are you studying/going to study? What kind of job are going to get?” during your holiday gatherings.

If you are unsure of which college you will choose to go to, or the major you plan to select, I suggest turning the question back on the person asking it. “How did you decide to go to the college you went to? What college was it? Where was it? What was your major the first day you were there? What major did you graduate with?” etc. Like in current times, people who were in college 10-30 years ago, often changed their majors, struggled with an academic obstacle, and have a story or two to share. Get these people talking about their college experience! If the person asking the question did not go to college, ask her/him what they would have studied if they had gone, and why they are selecting that major/field of study now.

If you are nearing the end of your college career, of course people are asking you what career or job you are headed toward. In these cases, I again suggest asking this person questions rather than replying right away. “What did you do the day after you graduated? How long did it take you to find a career related position? How long did you stay in that job? When did you realize you were on the path to the position you have now? What advice do you have for me? What are the top two traits you are looking for when you hire an entry-level employee?” It is extremely unlikely the person you are speaking with is doing the same job s/he did when they graduated, and soliciting advice from her/him is wise. You can thank the person for all their insights and never answer the question they asked you!

When you answer questions about your major/field of study, I suggest you speak passionately! Demonstrate your enthusiasm for YOUR choice by talking smartly about your classes, the research you are doing, the faculty you are learning from, and the opportunities you have engaged in on your campus. Share fun-facts about your program and/or college, and be proud of what you are accomplishing.

When answering questions about your intended career, be positive in your responses, showing confidence in YOUR decision to get a Bachelor’s degree in this field. Talk about the career workshops you have attended, the guest lectures you have seen (that have inspired you), and the resume you have already drafted. Ask if s/he would like to see it, and a sample cover letter you have written, and ask for feedback and edits. Also, make sure to ask this person if they know anyone in this field, or a similar field with whom I could do an informational interview. Informational interviews are a great way to learn more about an actual position and a company – take advantage of these connections.

Now you are ready to embrace these loaded question gatherings!


From a liberal arts/humanities professor:

Professor Lynn Huber (of Elon University) has four recommendations for being “more than practical” when choosing a major and navigating your early college career. You’ll note she recommends pursuing your passion. Yours. Not your parents. Not your favorite high school teacher’s. Yours. To pursue it, you need to find it. Explore a variety of courses. Actually dig in, get connected, find out what your passion is. Then go after it.

She ends her piece with this paragraph:
“And I didn’t say don’t major in marketing, strategic communications or any other number of professional school majors. If you love it, you should be there. But if your passion is in another field, you’re selling yourself short by staying there. Start doing what you love now. It may be the most practical move you can make for the future.”

Stay in the Present

College students – you’re nearing the end of the academic year. You have 3-6 weeks (approximately) until your term ends and things are busy. It’s Spring, the weather is nice, and you’re probably getting a little stir crazy sitting in a lecture hall, writing research papers, or spending time behind a microscope in a lab. I am here to remind you to stay in the present and focus! Instead of letting distractions get the best of you, stay on task and commit to giving these next few weeks your best. Now is the time to prove to yourself you have will-power and follow-through, do not procrastinate! Set your intention on academic achievement and stay focused!

High School seniors – it’s time to inform the college/university you plan to attend of your intent to enroll. (Remember, you can tell more than one college you plan to attend and still take a little more time to make your final decision – but do not miss the intent to enroll deadline!) As you’re narrowing your choices, it is very important to do detailed research on each institution you’re considering. Make sure to investigate your majors of interest, know if you are ‘in’ the major, will be a ‘pre-‘ major, or will be applying for a space in an ‘impacted’ major. If you’re receiving financial aid, in any form: grants, scholarships, or loans, make sure to get all your questions answered by a financial aid counselor. The financial aid resources in our book can be a great resource for those conversations. Doing intensive research now should be a great help in making your final decision!

There’s no time like the present – stay in it!

The Admissions Wait

High school students (and your parents), we know you are in the midst of waiting to receive the admission decisions from the institutions to which you applied, and we know the wait seems really long. We empathize with you! To speed-up this wait, we suggest you conduct deeper research on these colleges. (However, if your FAFSA has not been submitted yet – make that your first priority!)

A few of the things we recommend you research are…
1. Majors: at each college, select at least five majors you are interested in. You probably already put down a major of interest on the application, but more than 50% of students change their major at least once, so look at ALL your options right now! Knowing there is more than one major you’re interested in is important. A good place to find your options is in the course catalog.

2. Major Impaction: can you get into the major(s) you’re interested by submitting a form, or are you going to need to complete prerequisite courses and meet a GPA minimum? Major impaction is becoming increasingly common at state universities, and can often cause students 1-2 additional years in college in order to complete the major. Research this information on the website of the specific major department.

3. Campus exams: many campuses have their own eligibility exams, no matter how high a score was earned on an ACT, SAT, AP or IB exam. Our campus requires campus-specific exams for Statistics, Calculus and Chemistry. If any of those courses are required in the major, the student must take the appropriate campus-specific exam. At our institution, these exams are given at orientation. Students who were highly successful in those courses during high school often struggle with these exams for two reasons. First, the students do not realize they will be needing to take a campus-specific exam, and therefore have not reviewed any materials related to the subject. Second, the exams are given on the second day of orientation at 7:30am. This is after many students have been up half the night making new friends = horrible timing!

4. Orientation: the cost and anticipated dates. Attending orientation is extremely important; you do not want to be caught off-guard by the registration fee and the dates you need to attend. Your other summer activities should be planned around attending on-campus orientation. An option to do online orientation will never compare to the on-campus experience; the memories will last a lifetime!

Enjoy your research – not only is it very useful information, it’s great preparation for all the research you’re going to do in college!!

Experiential Learning

Learning by experience (experiential learning) is probably the most important activity to engage in while in college. I believe most students go to college precisely for these opportunities, although you rarely hear a student respond to “Where are you going to college?” with the response of “the place where I have the most opportunities!” Every college campus provides numerous ways to collect these experiences – but you, students, must be on the look-out for them.

Recently, a fun and funky friend of mine, provided me an experiential learning opportunity (as a 30-something adult). She honored me with a media pass to a festival which provided me access to take photos of musicians, bands and rockstar in the Media Pit! This bout with photography was really interesting in multiple aspects. First, being so close to the stage and the musicians was exciting! Second, watching professional photographers in action, running around the pit, bumping into each other – and being quite polite about it, climbing on fences and scaffolding was nuts! These individuals are only given 1-2 songs, or about 10 minutes in the pit, to get great shots. Third, noticing all the stage lighting, especially during the evening performances, makes one wonder, how do any of these photos look good with all those colors changing every few seconds. Additionally, the musicians aren’t posing for pictures, so the photographer has to know how to get a good shot, no matter what the performer is wearing or how s/he is standing/dancing/moving on stage.

My friend, Susan, tapped into experiential learning in college by writing for the campus’ weekly newspaper. Through this experience, she found her love of writing and photography. Today, she continues with this passion in two ways: 1) by interviewing bands for an Atlanta, GA, music publication (note: she lives in California), and 2) photographing musicians at concerts around the U.S. Currently, being a “rocktographer” is not her full time gig, however, she has a true passion for the industry and continues to pursue avenues to make this work a full time career.

So, student! How are you, or how will you, engage in experiential learning before the end of the term? Here is a photo of Susan, and our favorite band  at the festival: The War On Drugs!



Academic Advising

Last week, I was assisting transfer students with academic advising at our university’s final orientation session. I was in a room with science majors, and I asked my final advisee of the morning “are you a Bio Chem major?” His reply “I don’t know what I am.” This student had spent four years between two community colleges, to arrive at a “four-year” institution not knowing what he was going to major in. His story is not uncommon.

After chatting for about 20 minutes he told me he might just like making cabinets for 20 years, but wanted something to fall back on ‘after his back hurt and he couldn’t do that any more.’ And there it was… Late that evening I received this email:

Per your recommendation, I went to the major advising for the construction management and that major is EXACTLY the kind of thing that I am trying to do, I could not have thought of a more perfect major for myself. Needless to say I am now pursuing my bachelors in Construction Management, all thanks to you! I have been trying to figure this out for years and years and all it took was ten minutes of your time! Where were you four years ago?? But really, thank you from the bottom of my heart, you really made an impact on my life today and I will be forever grateful.

Students: the first time you get academic advising, is probably not the last! Utilize all your campus resources to help you find the major that is perfect for you – well before you’re four years into college! Find numerous suggestions on how to engage in these conversations in On the Quad!

Can you get into your major at the school you’ll transfer to?

The final aspect of community college exploration that needs to be addressed is this:  Once you attend the community college you chose and did the required coursework to transfer to a Bachelor’s granting institution, can you get into the major you want to major in?

This is becoming a problem at many transfer institutions (the Bachelor’s granting college).  Let’s say you were a psychology major at the community college and then applied to and gained admission to a Bachelor’s granting institution — what do you have to do (what are the requirements) to be a Psychology major at the next college?  Can you just declare the major and you are in?  Or, are there extra hurdles and hoops you must jump over to be the major you want to be?

At our institution, there are currently around 6 majors that have extra hurdles that you will have to jump over even if you are admitted to the university.  There are particular courses that must be passed with particular grades; there are a certain number of units that must be completed; and there are GPA requirements that must be met before you can apply to be in the major.  Otherwise, we use the phrase “expressed interest in X” to show that you are interested in a particular major but not yet actually admitted to the major.  This might seem sneaky; and, it kind of is.  Why would the institution accept you if you couldn’t also be in the major you want to declare?  This is exactly why we encourage to really do your research not only about the community college but also into the Bachelor’s granting institution to which you will transfer.  Otherwise, you will potentially be in for a surprise.

Major/Career Wrap-up

In this final post about careers and majors, I am wrapping up with two things I’ve read and heard this week.

First, in all honesty, a “four-year” college/bachelor’s degree, isn’t for everyone (gasp!). Yes, that’s the truth. Many people are perfectly happy with the career provided by their associate degree from a community/junior college, or a certificate from a speciality program. If this seems more realistic for you, review this article and do some research on programs of those types.

Second, last night (6/12/14) on Market place, I heard Tech companies don’t just recruit from the Ivies. Maybe your best strategy for getting a job at your ‘dream’ company is by going to the university in its closest proximity. Give the 3 minute story a listen!

Remember: there are very few majors that lead to a specific career. It is okay to go to college not knowing exactly what career/major you want, however, we encourage you to pick 2-4 majors that seem interesting and get started on them your first year – it’s your best strategy to graduate!

Major? Career? College? Is it worth it?

After reading last week’s blogs, maybe you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or confused about career choices and selecting a major, it’s understandable. College is the time when ‘adult’ decision making begins. (However, we know, may of our readers have life situations that have required them to make adult decisions early in life.) Often ‘adult’ decisions seem daunting.

Yesterday, at orientation, with transfer students who want to be nurses, I had REAL conversations about trying to get into our nursing program = it’s harder than getting into medical school (at our institution)! Hearing that, you might start thinking “never mind, I’m not going to college!” I recently read this article which opposes the writers who say ‘don’t go to college, follow your dreams now.’ Here’s my favorite excerpt from it:

Taken from: Sunil Rajaraman: People routinely refer to anomalies like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to beef up their argument. Stop referring to diamond-in-the-rough talents to make your case! For our society to function, people have to design cars, work in PR, be lawyers, doctors, etc, etc, etc. Aside from the aforementioned three guys, take a look at the “about us” page on basically any tech (or non tech) company you can think of and you’ll note that… all the execs have degrees.

Face your daunting decisions, make a choice and pursue! You’ll be much happier with yourself when you figure out your decision was good, or maybe it was bad – but at least you tried, then you can go for the next thing with lessons learned!

Career Counseling

Have you thought about or tried career counseling? Did you even know it was a thing? Now days, some high schools have counselors who’s primary focus is helping seniors with their college applications and providing career guidance. However, if that was not available at your high school (or you didn’t take advantage of it), these services are available in college!

I was recently reading these Noel-Levitz reports which indicate 47% of first year college students, at all types of institutions: two-year public (community/junior) and private colleges, four-year private and four-year public (but remember, in most cases students do not finish in four), desire career counseling!

Find out how soon you’re eligible to meet with a career counselor, once you have committed to a college. Are you eligible before orientation, or is it part of the orientation process? Is it something you can do after summer orientation, or do you have to wait till the regular academic term starts. Do not be afraid of meeting with a career counselor – they’re there to help, take advantage of their resources!