As we enter the month of August, thousands of students are busy preparing for their first days as college freshmen. Feelings of excitement and uncertainty are very normal as you start the next chapter of your life within a higher education setting, and if you have not selected a major prior to your first day on campus, you may be feeling extra anxiety – even pressure – to make a decision, and make it quick.
I, on the other hand, believe it can be a very good thing to wait to select a major!
Some high school seniors graduate and know for certain what they want to major in and what they plan to do with their major upon graduation. If this is you, congratulations! Go for it!
However, if you are weighing out a couple of options or if you really have no idea what you want to major in, I highly suggest waiting to declare a major. Don’t like that “undecided” moniker? Go with a more positive “exploratory” instead!
Certainly nobody wants to find themselves in a place where they change majors multiple times and ultimately delay graduation due to jumping into a decision. So instead, if you are not 100% sure on your major choice, consider waiting to declare your major until you have fully explored your options and made an informed decision.
While beginning your college career exploring majors can be a great path for some, “explore” is a verb – you must take action in order to come to that informed decision. Following are three things you can do in your first semester which will move you in the right direction. (Bonus: If Mom and Dad are giving you the third degree about your “exploratory” status, it’s likely that taking the following steps will appease them as well.)
Get to know your Career Center early
While most first year students do not make an appointment with their Career Center on their first day of classes, it’s a good idea to check them out once you get settled on campus. Meet with a career coach to learn about the services they provide and begin the conversation about exploring majors and careers. Know that it is highly unlikely that you will decide upon a major after one appointment; making an informed decision is a process and it is 100% worth the time it takes.
If you have some thoughts about majors and careers, it is likely that your career coach will connect you with resources to assist you in exploring the opportunities in your areas of interest. While much information will be shared in conversation, it is likely that she will offer you a number of resources (print and online) which can offer additional options for consideration.
If you have a large number of major/career interests, are wide open and want to explore your options broadly, or absolutely have no clue, your career coach may recommend that you take a career assessment. While the assessments offered vary from campus to campus, they are usually personality, skills, values, or strengths inventories. Career assessments are an excellent tool for beginning the exploration process, however they are not tests which tell you which career/major you should pursue.
Your Career Center will also be a great resource for gaining experience in a field of interest through experiential learning (internships, co-ops, job shadowing, etc.) While we traditionally think of experiential learning as a way to gain experience that looks great on your resume, performing an internship can also allow you to “test drive” a career you are considering – an excellent tool for discerning if it is the right fit for you! A career coach can offer you strategies for your internship search as well as your job search in the future. Additionally, your Career Center will likely offer career fairs to help you connect with employers for internship and job opportunities.
Take classes in the areas that interest you
While you are still exploring majors, you may find scheduling your classes somewhat challenging. Every campus has general education or core curriculum requirements, so usually the first two semesters can be devoted to these courses. But when selecting your classes, don’t just take a class your roommate is taking or one that you hear is “easy.” Take an introductory class in a major you’re considering to try it out!
In most cases, you can make these courses fulfill a general education/core curriculum requirement, so you have the opportunity to check out the major while sticking to your four year plan. If you take the class and really enjoy it, be sure to share that with your career coach. If the subject is really challenging or if you really hate it, share that too. All of this information can be very helpful in coming to a decision on your major.
Hands-on experience can be one of the best indicators of a “right fit” when it comes to majors and careers. College campuses tend to offer a large number of clubs and activities connected with majors, service, athletics, and the arts. Consider volunteering with a non-profit organization, joining an intramural sports team, auditioning for a play, or joining a major/industry-specific club. The things you do and people you meet can provide excellent insight as to your strengths, skills, and interests. As you reflect on these activities, speak with a career coach about the ones that really excite you. Perhaps something you have been doing for fun can be a viable career option for you!
While exploring majors and careers takes some time and effort, it is absolutely worthwhile. Whether you have selected a major or are beginning the academic year exploratory, be sure to take advantage of the excellent resources on your campus. Good luck!