By Elizabeth LaScala
What's Your Major and Other Pesky Questions Colleges AskUploaded: Nov 9, 2016
Thousands of high school seniors cruise through college applications, completing basic contact information, high school coursework and grades, test scores and activities without a hitch. But these same students often cringe when asked “Indicate Your Major.” Although some students know exactly what they want to study in college, many, even most, 17 year olds are uncertain. For the adults reading this article, I ask you--Did you know exactly what you wanted to do when you were 17?
For many students, the easiest and often the first choice that appeals to them on the list of college major options is ‘undeclared.’ There are at least two major reasons why that is often not the best selection to make.
Limited Availability. Students may not realize that ‘undeclared’ is considered a major, and as such there is a limited number of seats to offer an incoming class. In addition, if a student weighs in as ‘undecided’ some colleges may use one of their most rigorous majors to assess the strength of a student’s application.
College Essays. For many students the question of what major to select arises when they are writing essays for colleges. Many colleges ask students questions like “Why did you select the major you did and why do you want to study that subject at our college?” One popular east coast college asks applicants the following questions: “What academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Why do these areas appeal to you?” You can list up to 3 subjects and you have 100 words to respond. A cinch, right? Not if you do not have a well thought out response.
Many of my clients are uncertain about what major they wish to pursue in college. Since I know these types of essay questions come up when students apply to colleges, we prepare well before the application cycle begins by exploring areas of interest. But what should the many seniors do who are grappling with the question and have not prepared for it? For them, I recommend two fairly straight-forward strategies:
1.) Take a different approach to thinking about a major. Is there a class you would really like to take as you explore the freshman curriculum at a college? There are many introductory courses to choose from –Romantic Poetry through the Ages (English Department); Bringing Out Your Inner Picasso! (Art Department), Making Important Business Decisions (Business Department) and The Physics of Sports (Physics Department). Read the course descriptions and choose one that really appeals to you. Then choose that department as your major. This approach allows you to test an academic direction early enough in your college career to change course, and also gives you some foundation upon which to answer those pesky essay questions. At the overwhelming majority of colleges, changing your major is as easy as completing a simple form and 80% of students change their major at least once in their college careers.
2.) Explore the many resources available to think about what major you would like to pursue in college. For example, The Book of Majors, 2017 edition can help you answer questions like: What's the major for me? Where can I study it? What can I do with it after graduation?
The Book of Majors is revised every year, and is the most comprehensive guide to college majors that I have found on the market. It offers in-depth descriptions of 200 of the most popular majors, and the 2017 edition covers every college major identified by the U.S. Department of Education - over 1,200 majors in all. This guide also shows what degree levels each college offers in a major: a certificate, associate degree, bachelor's, master's or doctorate. The guide also features insights from the professors themselves on how each major is taught, what preparation students will need for a particular major, and other majors to consider that share some commonalities. There is updated information on career options and employment prospects.
Applying to college includes careful planning, organization, research and lots of self-assessment. The process from start to finish involves many challenges that can and should be viewed as opportunities to mature, thus laying the foundation for success in college and beyond.
Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admission. Elizabeth helps students identify majors and career paths, and develops best match college lists; she offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth guides students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. For more information visit Elizabeth Call (925) 385-0562 or email her at [email protected]