Depending on what school you go to, it may be nearing the time when you have to finally pick your major. There’s no doubt that for many collegiettes, choosing a major can be one of the most difficult parts of your college experience.
“One of the things that makes college so hard is the reality that you’re expected to know what you want to do when you’re 18-years-old,” says Seattle Pacific University senior Ingrid.
So this week, we’re giving you a little bit of extra information to help with your decision. Upperclassman collegiettes weighed in about what they wish they had known BEFORE they picked their majors – everything from the number of classes they had to take to the stereotypes that come with picking a certain discipline. So here are some things to think about before getting your study card signed:
“I wish I’d known that my major would make it difficult to study abroad and take elective classes.”
Some collegiettes come to college with a really specific idea about what they want to focus on, while others come simply because they want to learn from the overall college experience. Neither is wrong, but it’s important to think about your priorities and reasons for coming to collegebeforeyou pick your major.
An anonymous Bucknell University biology major wishes she could go back to freshman year and re-do the process of picking a major. “I wish someone had told me that I would be spending entire semesters looking at little cells in a microscope,” she says. “I have found myself taking classes purely to get the major and fill requirements. I'm insanely jealous of people who get to take classes for fun, and purely because the title of the class sounded like something they could spend a whole semester learning. The best advice I could give is, don't waste your time if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing. And if you can't find a major that interests you, design your own!”
It’s also important to think about your other priorities when it comes to the overall college experience. Do you want to study abroad? If so, check with upperclassmen who are in your desired major. While some majors can easily spend time in a foreign country, others have too many requirements for that to be possible.
Sarah, a Bucknell University senior, wishes she had known that her education major would limit her study abroad options. “Even if you're not sure of your major, start taking classes that will fulfill the requirements and work with your advisor to plan out your time at college. That way you can finish in time and be able to study abroad if you want to,” she says. “It was possible for me to study abroad, but it was really difficult and my options were limited as to where I could go since I needed to get requirements out of the way.”
So do your research before you pick a major – if you want to have enough time to study abroad and take fun classes, perhaps it would be valuable to pick a major with fewer course requirements.
“I wish I’d known that some people would look down on my major.”
Although you may love your major and the classes you are taking, it’s important to remember that other people might not have such positive feelings towards your chosen discipline. Science and engineering majors, for example, are notorious for looking down upon the “soft science” majors (like sociology, anthropology and psychology), and even older family members may have views that differ from your own regarding your chosen field of study.
Caroline, a junior at University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, loves her major. However, she doesn’t like the responses she gets when she tells people that she’s majoring in journalism. “It is beyond annoying hearing people’s responses when they ask what I'm studying,” she says. “Everyone likes to remind journalism majors that it's so hard to get a job in that field nowadays’ and did I know that print journalism is dying and other questions of the sort. Be prepared to fight for journalism’s honor if you are going to major in it!”
So although others may look down on your major, make sure that you’re dedicated enough that you can take the stereotypes in stride and look beyond them. After all, what doesn’t hurt you can only make you stronger!
“I wish I’d known that I would need to participate in certain extracurriculars as a part of my major.”
Although you may only be aware of the core requirements of your major, there are often extracurriculars that go along with the discipline. While these extracurriculars may not be required, they are often encouraged as a way to get hands-on experience in the field and as a way to secure a job later on. Psychology majors, for example, are sometimes required to complete practicums at local psychiatric institutes, and education majors spend a lot of their time working in schools around the area. Biology majors may be required to participate in undergraduate research, while journalism majors often spend their time working for on-campus newspapers and other publications.
Laura, a Virginia Tech collegiette, wishes she had known how much time outside of the classroom would go into her major. “Something I wish someone had told me before I picked my major is that you can't just expect to attend class and that's it,” she says. “If you want to go far in a competitive field, it takes more than just course curriculum to get you through. You have to be prepared to take on extracurriculars that pertain to what you want to do, complete some internships, and network your heart out.”
Internships, which are often integral to getting jobs in a selected discipline, also take up a lot of time, especially if you complete them during the school year along with your classes.
“I wish I had known the importance of internships and completed more of them sooner,” says Alexandra Churchill, Her Campus writer from the University of New Hampshire. “Where I study, we're required to complete an internship for credit in order to obtain our degree. Even though I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do (I declared English Literature as a major going into college) and I would never change my decision to become a writer, I wish I had done internships in my freshman and sophomore year to explore my options and maybe figure things out sooner.”
“I wish I’d planned out my classes freshman year.”
Grace, a Hofstra University junior, wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to major in when she first got to college. Although that’s normal, she wishes that she had been able to plan ahead a bit better when it came to her course schedule. “I took a few classes my freshman year that didn't satisfy my major requirements,” she says. “If I had planned better, I probably would've taken on a triple major with Italian.”
And Grace isn’t alone. Although, as Ingrid said, it can be difficult to know what you want to major in at the age of eighteen, there are perks to picking a track and sticking with it. If you know which classes you’ll need to take over your four years at college, you’ll have the ability to plan ahead, and that will allow you to add majors and minors that you wouldn’t have time for otherwise.
Courtney, a sophomore at Indiana University, agrees with Grace. “I wish I would have chosen my major sooner!” she says. “Everyone told me that I would change my mind about wanting to major in journalism, so I went into college undecided. If I could go back and do it again, I would have listened to what I knew was right, and not what other people were telling me I should do.”
“I wish I’d known more about the classes I would have to take for my major.”
You may have preconceived notions about what your major is going to involve before you sign up, but it’s important to check out the curriculum and talk to upperclassmen in the major so that you can understand what you will actually be doing.
As a sophomore at Bucknell University, I picked psychology as a major because I figured I would enjoy being a therapist. Little did I know, however, that I would be spending three years doing psychology research, because most undergraduate psychology programs don’t teach clinical psychology classes at all. If I could go back and pick my major again, I think I would pick something else – but I would make sure to do a lot of research about it first!
Holly, a California Baptist University senior, loves her marketing major. However, she also wishes that she had looked into the curriculum more extensively before she started taking classes. “I didn’t know that my major has so many math classes involved! Basically all majors have to take some sort of stats class, but I have had a math class almost every semester I have been here. I thought I was going to be pretty much done after my ‘Intro to Stats’ class freshman year.”
Stephanie, a senior engineering major at Bucknell, decided to pick engineering because she liked taking math and science courses in high school. However, she wishes she had known that she would have to spend a few years on introductory courses before getting to the fun stuff. “The first couple years are full of introductory requirements like calculus, thermodynamics, and mechanics,” she says. “Those can be difficult and not as interesting. However, once you get into upper-level electives though, there are a lot of interesting topics you can take courses in. Engineering majors have more required classes, but I've typically had at least one elective every semester.”
“I wish I’d known that it’s okay to switch majors.”
Ingrid, a Seattle Pacific University senior, came into college thinking that she wanted to major in nursing. After a year, however, she realized that she wasn’t happy in her major, and she ended up switching to education instead. “When I switched, I felt like I related to my classmates more,” she says. “I was rather unhappy when I was studying science because I had no passion for it. The process I went through in discovering my major really helped me to understand a lot about myself. Now, my skills, personality, and mindset are focused on education and I love learning about it.”
Ingrid isn’t alone. Thousands of women change their majors every year, and usually they are still able to graduate on time with a bit of summer school or by overloading for a semester or two. So if you hate your major, have no fear – you’re never stuck!
Choosing a major can be tricky because it requires you to pick a focused field of study when you’re at the beginning of your college experience. However, the biggest takeaway here is to do your research before you jump into the major – talk to upperclassmen, read over the course requirements, and even talk to professors. And it’s also important to remember that while your major is a valuable part of your college education, it’s not the final determinant of your future career. So, get learnin’ collegiettes, no matter that your major is!