Major Decision, Major Headache…?

Choosing a major is often a frustrating process because it really forces one to answer the age- old question, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” There are so many things to consider and, many times, students are influenced by others and make choices that are not necessarily a good fit. Parents may expect you to follow in the family business, or to follow a certain profession because it is a family tradition. Teachers will offer advice based on your work in school. Some folks will push you toward a certain career because of the potential to make a lot of money. While these bits of advice are given by people who mean well, they are not necessarily looking at what’s best for you.

Choosing a major can be based on a subject or activity that you really enjoy or at which you excel. 
If you loved your literature course in high school, you might major in English or world literature.  If you have been active in sports and want to work with athletes, maybe you would choose exercise kinesiology or sports nutrition. Your passion for food and entertaining might lead you to choose hospitality management. Often, choosing a major in this way is a lasting decision.

Choosing a major can be based on a process of career exploration. 
If you have many likes and interests, it may be difficult to sort it out without help, but it is possible to do so through career exploration. So, how do you go about the process of career exploration? Visit your school’s career center.

Every school has a career services office, and a career counselor has the expertise to guide you through the process. Many counselors can administer a variety of assessments to help you to consider your interests, personality, skills and work values.

Interests often are apparent early on. You have a passion for sports. You love music. Problem solving challenges you. You are fascinated by science. There are interest inventories available to help you explore your interests.

Personality is what makes us unique. Why are some people social butterflies and others are quiet and reserved? Why are some people logical and methodical while others have ideas popping out of their heads? A personality inventory will help appreciate your uniqueness.

Skills go beyond the subjects you excelled at in high school.  Some skills are developed after you have been in college. Being the coordinator for a class project may help you recognize great organizational, interpersonal and management skills. A speech class may show how your communication skills might lead to influencing and inspiring others. 

Work values are those things that we find important in our day to day situations. Do you want to travel? Is family important? Do you want to make a contribution to society? Are you passionate about justice and equality? Work values exercises will allow you to understand what is important to you.

Take advantage of experiential learning.
A counselor will guide you through activities to further explore options such as job shadowing, informational interviews, and internships. Job shadowing involves spending a day with a professional in a position you would like to know more about. It includes some time to ask questions about the day’s activities. Informational interviews are generally short sessions in which you are able to ask specific questions about someone’s work, what they like and don’t like about the position, what skills they use daily and perhaps, how they prepared for this position.  An internship is a semester or summer-long position in a professional setting that will give you real world experience performing some of the tasks of a professional. Internships may be paid or unpaid, and may or may not be taken for academic credit. More than one internship will allow you to see if this is the right direction for you.

Work closely with an academic adviser.
It is important to talk with an academic adviser early on to make sure your schedule of classes is flexible enough to pursue several avenues before you make a final decision about a major, while also fulfilling basic requirements for specific majors. Many majors have a strict sequence of courses that must be taken in order, so make sure you discuss this with an adviser.

Talk with faculty in your department.
Faculty members often have real world experience and can give you insight into of the options that may be available with a certain degree. They may share their own educational and career path to help understand how the two connect.

What to do if you find you are in the wrong major?

If you have chosen a major, and have taken some coursework in that major, and find you are unsure about the choice or have developed an interest in something else, meet with an adviser to learn what you must do to start fulfilling requirements for a new major. Find out if you are able to petition for course substitutions so you don’t lose time repeating general requirements. Work with him or her to set up a plan for completion of necessary coursework.

Remember that career development is a process and the activities described above can be used throughout life. Continually read, research and re-evaluate periodically to maximize career fulfillment.   

Often, the decision can be delayed for at least one year to give you time to try out some courses, or to do some exploration.  If your school allows you to enter undeclared and take general credits, this may save time and money in the long run.

Elsie M. Boucek, Career Counselor, Point Park University, 412-392-8156, eboucek@pointpark.edu           
Laura Dulaney, Career Counselor, Point Park University, 412-392-3910, ldulaney@pointpark.edu