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Choosing a Major

Jo Calhoun


Your student’s major will be the academic area that they focus on during their studies.

Students take about 10 courses of increasing difficulty and specialization in the major they choose. Choosing their major can feel daunting! Learning a little more about majors yourself is a great way to support your student and to help take a little stress out of this decision.

Schools Offer a Wide Range of Majors

Majors may be very specific, with the goal of preparing your student for a certain profession — for example, hospitality management, elementary education or aerospace engineering — or they may be more general, such as history, economics or biology.

Your student’s academic advisor, and counselors at the campus career center, can help your student learn more about majors and how they connect to possible careers. Your student’s choice of major is important, but most majors can prepare your student for a variety of careers, and in the highly mobile 21st century labor market, it's likely that your student will have many careers over the course of their lifetime.

Tips for Being Successful in Their Major

  1. Students do best in classes they enjoy. They should study what they love!
  2. Early in college is a good time for your student to explore subjects they didn’t take in high school as well as subjects they are considering for a major. Your student might discover a passion for psychology, architectural design or creative writing.
  3. Your student should pay attention to deadlines for declaring a major (usually the second semester of sophomore year), but there’s nothing wrong with being undecided for a while.
  4. It’s common to change majors once or twice.

Other Practical Considerations

It is certainly appropriate to expect your student to do some self-reflection to understand what kind of work they might want to do after college (if they haven't already decided on a career path) and to start researching the best ways to prepare for these jobs. Their authentic interests should drive their choice of major and also choices they make about other activities they will do during college to prepare for life after graduation: volunteering, a campus job, joining clubs and student organizations, summer internships, etc.

Because a college degree is a big financial investment for a family, parents are sometimes concerned that certain majors aren't "practical." Keep in mind that future employers will value the critical thinking and other skills acquired by liberal arts graduates.

If you and your student would like to learn more about the potential value of their college degree (based on where they go to school and what they major in), take a look at the Georgetown University study "The Economic Value of College Majors." The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is another good resource for information about the kinds of jobs that will be available in the coming decade along with typical salaries.

Start a Great Conversation!

  • What class do you like the most?
  • What’s the most interesting paper or project you’ve done this semester?
  • Which department’s courses haven’t you tried yet?
  • When you think about the future after college, what do you dream about?
Jo Calhoun worked in Student Affairs for over 30 years at institutions including Grinnell College in Iowa, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver. Her specializations include first year programs, academic advising, career services and parent relations.
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