Michele is presently a part time adjunct instructor at Faulkner University in the Counselor Education Department where she teaches Measurement and Assessment and Diagnosis and Treatment. I formerly taught at the University of West Alabama where I taught School Counseling and College Student Development Counseling. I was also the Student Success Coordinator for the College of Education.
Choosing a Major
'When should I declare my major?' This is a question without an easy answer. If you asked parents, more than likely they would want you to choose as soon as possible. They think that the longer it takes you to decide, the more tuition they will have to pay. If you asked the college you will be attending, they would encourage you to declare a major as well. Their thinking is that you are more likely to stay in school if you have declared a major.
Everyone is different. Some students have known most of their lives what career they wanted to pursue. Some may want to follow a family member or someone they know into a career field. Some students may see a career on television or read about one that was interesting to them. For instance, an increase in the number of students interested in forensics, police work, the FBI, and other related fields may be because of television shows, such as CSI and Bones.
Students may also feel peer pressure to declare a major. It seems like everyone in your peer group knows what they want to do besides you. Deciding on a major early on may release some anxiety and provide some closure for the student.
Jason is on his way to college for his freshman year. He is one of those students who felt that they knew what they were going to major in most of his life. Jason came to college his freshman year planning to major in civil engineering. His father, and grandfather before him, had owned a successful road-building business.
Jason had heard all his life that as the oldest son, he would inherit the business some day. Jason has worked summers at the business and had done everything from building roads to doing the paperwork. Once Jason got to college, he found out about majors he didn't know existed, like international business.
So, like for Jason, deciding early doesn't set your major in stone. About 50% to 75% of college students will change majors at least once throughout their college career. As students are exposed to information about careers they may not have been aware of in high school, students will usually find a career field that is a match for them once they are in college. You are not alone. In fact, many students who come to college with a major declared also change majors.
Jason did what many students do. For several months, he stuck it out in engineering. He finally went to the career center, a place on campus that centers on career development, and met with a career counselor, someone specifically trained to work with undecided students. After taking some interest inventories, Jason came to realize that a degree in international business would be a major that would really interest him more than engineering and could be beneficial to his father's company. He had information about engineering from his hands-on work with the company, but with the international business degree, he could help the business grow internationally.
Jason found a way to be involved in the business using the interests and abilities that were strongest for him. Not all students have the experience entering college that Jason has. You may feel you know very little about different majors and careers. That is where the career center and your advisors can help you.
By visiting the career center and meeting with a career counselor, taking interest inventories, and talking to faculty and advisors, you should be able to make a decision about your major within a reasonable time. What's important is that you have chosen a field you can really enjoy. By the time you get to your junior year of college, you'll find you are taking courses that seem easier to you because you want to learn as much as you can.
Declaring a Major
The basic answer is that there is no specific time for you to declare a major. Most college freshmen and sophomores take the same basic curriculum. Many majors will have an upper division that you will need to apply for around your junior year. If you have not made a decision by then, you may have to apply for upper division later and may have to take additional coursework.
Some majors, like engineering, expect you to have taken higher-level mathematics and science in high school, so you are entering college with more of those courses already taken. Don't be discouraged, though. If this is a major you really wish to pursue, then you can take the extra courses. You will be behind in your coursework but can catch up by attending summer school, taking courses online, or taking more hours per semester until you catch up.
Once you have declared a major, a faculty advisor will be assigned to advise you about which courses to take. Faculty will also be able to provide you with other information, such as scholastic resources, grants and scholarships, and opportunities to publish or research with professors.
So, the time to declare your major is whenever you have truly found a major that interests and excites you. The career center, or the place on campus that centers on career development, can provide you with the information you need to discover what your interests are and careers for which you are suited.
The career counselors, or counselors trained to work with undecided students, can help direct your career search through individual and group counseling, providing testing and inventories, and introducing you to materials you can use in the career library. Faculty and advisors can help with the process, as well, especially advising you on which courses to take, information about careers, and information pertaining to the program at your college.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to utilize resources, such as a college's career center, to help choose a major that will be beneficial to your career interests.
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