Focusing On Academics: Choosing A Major

With the average college graduate changing jobs once every three years and switching career fields two or three times in his/her lifetime, your student faces a career marketplace filled with opportunity as well as challenge.

Your student may have already declared a major or still may be exploring options.  Regardless of which stage describes your student, he/she can benefit from talking with his/her academic advisor, a staff member in the Office of Academic Advising, a Career Services advisor, and other BW resource people.

Undeclared Major? Don't Worry

During the first two years, it is common for students to explore several academic areas before settling on a major. This process enables them to sample various fields of study while still fulfilling core requirements. At the end of the second year, students are asked to formally declare their majors and minors.

At one time, the status of being an undeclared major made parents uncertain as to whether their student was ready for college. But today, this viewpoint is no longer true. Studies have shown that most students change their majors once, if not several times, during the course of their college years. If this is done early, it should have little effect on their anticipated graduation date. However, in some cases students may have to delay graduation, attend summer school and/or take a few "heavy load" semesters.

Misconceptions about Picking a Major

  • Picking a major and a profession are the same thing.
  • Graduate school studies are based on undergraduate studies.
  • Certain majors are career limiting.

While the above statements may be misconstrued as truth by some students, it is important for them to view an undergraduate degree as being one component of career development. At BW our liberal arts-based programs help students become proficient in focused areas of study as well as in compatible career fields.

Similarly, a student's undergraduate major may or may not be related to his/her graduate-level studies. While some pre-professional degree disciplines may have common undergraduate fields of study, students should view their undergraduate degrees as being their preliminary areas of focus rather than their only areas of focus.

Finally, students are encouraged to pick majors and minors based on their aptitude, skills and levels of interest rather than on preconceived ideas of how marketable certain degrees may be and/or how popular they may be among peers. After all, in addition to their fields of study, it is the insights, skills and experiences students have that will prepare them for their careers. In fact, studies show that within ten years of graduation, most individuals are working in careers that aren't directly related to their undergraduate majors.

Important Considerations for Picking a Major

Working with an academic advisor and a career services advisor, your student can begin exploring options and preparing for his/her sophomore year. Regardless of whether your student has declared a major and minor, he/she can benefit from reviewing the following steps:

Step One: Do a Self-Assessment

In doing this exercise, you may want to write down your answers.


  • What types of subjects and activities interest and excite me?
  • What courses did I like best in high school and at college?
  • What are my hobbies and co-curricular interests?
  • What do I envision myself doing in a job?


  • What activities and subjects do I excel at?
  • What aptitudes and skills do I have that I could see myself in career?
  • What do the ACT, SAT and career aptitude/exploration test results indicate?
  • Which of my natural and/or developed talents do others compliment me on?


  • What would give me a sense of career fulfillment?
  • What type of work environment do I seek?
  • How committed am I to service initiatives, environmental sustainability and other pertinent issues?
  • Besides my career, what other parts of my life would be important (e.g., family, civic, service)?

Personality Traits

  • Am I introverted or extroverted, patient or anxious, passive or assertive, holistic-minded or detail-oriented?
  • Would I enjoy working alone or with people?
  • How well do I like and can manage new experiences and change?
  • How do I feel about travel and/or moving away from my hometown?

Other Factors Influencing My Choice of a Major

  • What effect might the economy and/or job market have on my decision?
  • Am I making my decision based on someone else's recommendation?
  • Is my choice based on the perceived easiness or rigor of a particular major?
  • Am I picking a particular major because of its popularity with students or in the job marketplace?

Step Two:  Explore Options

After reviewing your self-assessment answers, you should begin researching the fields of study that best match your interests, proficiencies, values, personality traits and other relevant issues.  The Office of Career Services has a wealth of resources that can help you explore options.

Step Three:  Meet With Others

Discuss your options with your academic advisor and a Career Services advisor as a way to narrow and further solidify your choice. They can assist you in looking at the coursework you would need, the co-curricular activities that would complement a particular field of study, and other  opportunities. In addition, they can answer questions related to graduate school and career opportunities.

Step Four:  Make Plans

At this stage, you are ready to make decisions and to take action. However, keep an open mind and don't feel too badly if next semester you change your mind. The most important thing is to make the right choice.

Don't Be Afraid to Be Liberal

Liberal arts grads rate their college experience highly for preparing them for their first job.
Seventy-six percent rated it highly compared to 66 percent at public flagship universities.
In addition, 89 percent of liberal arts grads reported finding a mentor while at school.
At public flagship universities, only 66 percent indicated finding one.
*Study conducted by higher education consulting firm Hardwick Day in 2011.