A Major Decision


How important is it to have a major in mind during your college search? Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson offers helpful tips about choosing—or not choosing—a major.

Consider two very different students: When Kate registered for her sophomore year at college, she wrote "undecided" in the blank space labeled "major." She chose her college for other reasons—she figured she would find a major along the way. Then there's Rachel. When she received her degree in education last spring, she finished what she had started her freshman year. Her dream to become a teacher was very much a part of her college choice. She stuck with it and is now hoping to land a teaching job. Whether you're sure about what you want to do with the rest of your life, like Rachel, or you're still exploring your options, like Kate, it's important to understand a few things about college majors and your college choice.

So, What's a Major?

If you skip the stuff about military rank, you'll discover that your dictionary may define "major" this way: "A field of study chosen as an academic specialty." Putting it simply, it's the stuff you study at college that prepares you for a job after college. One education magazine says a major is sort of like a "contract" between you and the college. By signing on for a major, you agree to absorb a whole lot of knowledge and to produce a truckload of work in exchange for a degree of distinction. Your major "contract" is not like a cell-phone contract—you can cancel at any time. But there are consequences for waiting too long to honor this "contract." If, for instance, you're in your senior year of college with no major in sight, you'll either not graduate on time or you'll simply not be prepared for any specific job.

Undecided? Don't Sweat It!

Admissions counselors will tell you that majors aren't really that important until the end of your sophomore year. At this time in your college career you'll transition from required general education courses to specialized courses that make up your main area of study. Going into your junior year, most of the slots in your schedule should be filled with courses in your specific area of interest, or "major." Until then, say admissions counselors, don't get too worked up over "major choices." So, if you're one of those "undecideds," don't sweat it. Most first-year college students are uncertain about a major. Studies also show that 75 percent of college students change their majors at least once over the course of four years. Consider, for example, the student who came to college convinced he was going to major in pre-dentistry. Just for fun, he joined the jazz band—and realized music was his real passion. This experience then led him to take a couple of management courses that focused on the arts. The would-be dentist soon found himself falling in love with those courses. He ended up spending his last years studying arts management. If you major in music, this guy just may become your manager someday!

And the Point Is …

Actually, there are a couple of important points tucked into this little true story about the near-dentist who wandered into the jazz department. When you research a college, when you visit a campus, don't forget to look into the school's out-of-the classroom activities. You never know what career might result from a fun, extracurricular activity. And the second point is specifically for students who are pretty sure about what they want to major in. When you visit campuses, be sure to attend classes and talk to professors in your major of choice. Doing so will give you an idea of what the major is all about. As you talk to profs, ask yourself: Am I interested in what they're saying? Then when you visit classes, ask yourself: Am I excited or bored to death? Doing so could keep you from wasting time (and cash) in an area of study you'd end up hating.

Do you remember that 75 percent figure? There's probably a good reason so many college students change majors. Chances are, many of them didn't have a good picture of what they were getting into. Attending classes and talking to profs also could help you answer a very important question: Will this school challenge me and prepare me for my future career? And it's a great way to compare one school's academics to another. Of course, this advice really isn't just for those who know what they want to major in.

Even if you have absolutely no idea what you want to study, you still need to talk to profs and attend classes during your visit. Get some help and guidance from the admissions counselor. That's what they're there for. They want to help you. Also, think about those areas you have the slightest bit of interest in. And stay away from those areas you love to hate. If you can't stand math, then you probably don't want to visit a math class! Who knows, you "undecideds" may just bump into a class you love, and end up finding the major of your dreams! Yes, you could turn into the 25 percent that stays with a course of study to the very end!

Other Stops Along the Way

During a campus visit, it's also a good idea to drop by the school's career center. Get some input from these helpful folks. Ask them to give you a rundown of the kinds of jobs available to different majors. Find out which majors are able to find jobs relatively easily, and which ones require a bit more effort. Also, ask for information about average starting salaries. Granted, there is a whole lot more to life than big salaries and immediate job placement. But it's just helpful to get a realistic picture of the job market for majors you may be considering … or should be considering. For those of you who are committed to a major, be careful about putting too much emphasis on a specific course of study.

There are certainly many other important considerations—like a school's size, location, cost and "personality" (yes, colleges have a personality). And, remember, there's a good chance you'll end up falling into that 75 percent group of major changers. As for those of you who definitely fall in the "indecisive masses" category, don't ignore majors altogether. In fact, use your search to explore study and career options. Give yourself a chance to dream about the gifts and skills God may want to develop and fine tune in you during your college years.

Prepare for God's Adventure

As you push your way through mounds of college brochures, and as you weigh your various options, keep trusting God to put you exactly where he wants you to be. One admissions counselor put it like this: "Majors will change, careers will change, but God will not. So keep your mind and heart open and allow God to lead the way. With God's help, your major and college decisions will prepare you for the road ahead, wherever he may lead. And wherever that is, it's sure to be an exciting adventure. Enjoy the trip! 

Written by Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson

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