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What's in a Major?

If you dream of traveling and a fast-paced lifestyle, don’t major in accounting.

Kara Nelson

January 27, 2014

What's in a Major?
Some lucky individuals have known since childhood that they irrevocably want to become doctors, nurses, actors, or teachers. Some of us sit on a stump in a state of anxiety while looking at all those metaphorical career paths stretching before us. We agonize: Would I really be happy as a CEO? Does computer science really make me happy? Do I really have a chance to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist?

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If you’re about to start college or are already in college and unsure of how to pick a major, here is some important advice. 1. Explore - but meaningfully. If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’ve had several ideas.

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At age five, you wanted to be a secret agent, at seven you wanted to be a doctor, and by eleven you wanted to be a writer. We've gone through these phases and some of them possibly stuck with you. When I began college, I had mostly decided on a writing-related field, but I was still interested in the idea of psychology. Many people also expressed emphatically that I should go into nursing. What to do? Whether you’re at a community college or a four-year university, you usually have a core curriculum for two years. Often there are multiple courses that will fulfill set requirements as well as open electives. Use these opportunities wisely to explore your interests.

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For a core requirement I chose Introduction to Psychology and subsequently realized I didn't like psychology enough to pursue a major in it. When I took Human Anatomy and Physiology (a nursing core requirement) instead of regular Biology classes, I found I liked the subject matter. But meeting many nursing students, I found out simply liking the subject wasn't enough - I had to have a real passion and commitment in order to become a nurse, a drive I didn't possess. I couldn't do a job like that just because “it’s good money and a secure job.”
Lesson: take classes in your field of interest. Or take other interesting classes that appeal to you and you may find a hidden passion (as I almost did when I took Cultural Anthropology). 2. Consider your life goals. Try to think about some general paths you might be happy taking. If you dream of traveling and a fast-paced lifestyle, don’t major in accounting. If the idea of germs or drawing blood terrifies you, a major like nursing might not be practical. Of course, many people switch careers or (gasp!) go back to school and get a second degree. Think about what you might like to do and see if your dream major is actually tied with your dream life or not. And if you’re “too far into” a major and suddenly change your mind, don’t panic. Ask yourself why you changed your mind and explore your feelings-sometimes it’s a temporary crisis. You can perhaps change your current major to a minor and pursue a major in your new field. 3. Cost of education. It’s a hard fact of life, but finances will impact your major. If you can’t afford college, let alone graduate or medical school, you will have to find a way to fund your education. Look into scholarships for your area of interest, since many scholarships are tied to specific fields. Or you may have to take out loans. But before you take out several loans, try to think if you’re serious about what you’re trying to pursue. Don’t take out loans to pursue a major you’re not passionate about, only to later quit with a big debt on your shoulders, and then perhaps accumulate more debt if you start over with a new major. 4. Pick a college with the major or majors you are interested in. Try to choose a college that has your preferred major and hopefully is known to lead these students in success. Do students get jobs after graduation or does the school help with internships? Is the school noted for the program you’re interested in, and ranks moderately well nationally? Try to pick a college that also has at least one or two back-up fields you may minor in, double major in, or switch majors in. 5. Research. You can research what careers you’re interested in, either by reading or by talking to and observing people in different professions. Read about the various jobs you can hope to get with certain types of degrees. I often found reading personal accounts helped me see the potential benefits and drawbacks as I pictured myself in that person’s shoes. 6. Don’t panic. This bears repeating. If you’re a freshmen or sophomore, the choices are overwhelming. Like I said, you can explore options as you fulfill your general education and elective requirements. You can usually declare your major as “undecided” for the first few semesters until you think you’ve found the major that fits for your goals and potential career.

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