Six Tips to Help Students Choose a Major

July 27, 2016
Amy AmesAmy Ames, assistant director of professional development in Baylor University's Office of Career and Professional Development, offered six tips to help students decide on a major. (Photo courtesy of Amy Ames.)

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WACO, Texas (July 27, 2016) — Music or biology, journalism or math? Whether you are an incoming freshman or a returning student, choosing a major and career path can be daunting, but employing a few key strategies can help.

Students are often allowed to enter college under the designation “undecided,” but they should try to declare a major sooner rather than later in order to graduate on time, said Amy Ames, assistant director of professional development in Baylor University’s Office of Career and Professional Development.

To help students stay on track to graduate, Ames offered six tips to consider when deciding on a major.

1. Consider your interests and skills

Students should examine what they enjoy and how they like to spend their time, but they should also think about their personal strengths and where they are likely to be successful, Ames said.

“I would usually encourage a student first to think about what interests them, considering what courses they enjoyed in high school, things they’ve enjoyed about previous work experiences, volunteer experiences, or anything like that — do some self-reflection on what they enjoy,” Ames said. “Of course, that’s not the only thing. We want students to think about where their skills are, since those two aren’t always the exact same thing, and what are areas where they’re successful, whether that’s academics or something they’ve done through a hobby or elsewhere.”

2. Investigate careers that mix your passions and strengths

Ames encouraged students to pursue a career in which they can be both happy and successful.

“Employers want to see people who shine, not those who are just getting by,” Ames said. “So if you’re in a program where you’re struggling or you don’t enjoy it, it’s probably going to show on the job or when you’re in relevant experiences. So think about where you can really flourish. I think that is going to be where you can use a combination of your own skills, but also things you enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis.”

3. Know the job market

While finding a job you love is ideal, Ames advised students to research the job prospects and salaries associated with different majors.

“We teach students how to explore the labor market,” Ames said. “Look at what people are willing to pay you for. Just enjoying something and being good at it isn’t always enough to make a living, so we want students to know about job prospects and salaries for different careers that are out there.”

4. Utilize online career resources

Ames recommended using online tools such as O*Net OnLine and the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which offer career information such as salary and job outlook data, to research potential jobs. Over 700 universities nationwide also subscribe to Focus 2, a career guidance system available to all current or incoming students at participating universities that assesses students’ interests and personality preferences and offers related career options.

Students should set up a meeting with a career adviser to inquire about university-specific resources and to get individual help exploring possibilities. Career advisers help introduce students to the hundreds of options available to them, Ames said.

“We offer an individualized approach for students. Career decisions are really personal, so we want to be sure we can provide students the attention they deserve in making those kinds of decisions and really just walk alongside them,” Ames said. “We don’t choose majors for anybody; we don’t tell people what to do with their lives. We’re more about providing those tools, those skills, teaching decision-making skills, and really giving students the confidence to make those decisions on their own.”

5. When thinking about changing your major, befriend your academic adviser

Academic advisers can help students see what classes are applicable to which degree plans, Ames said. They can help students look at what classes will transfer if they change their majors and can assist students in choosing classes that might apply to multiple majors.

“What I always tell my students is that they need to consult with their academic adviser. They need to work closely with that person because they are the ones that are great at crunching the numbers and really looking at how much time until degree completion,” Ames said.

6. Talk to people in the fields that interest you

Ames encouraged students to find professionals in the fields or jobs they are considering and ask them questions such as:

  • What do they like or dislike about their jobs?
  • What do they wish they had known before working in that field?
  • What does the professional suggest they study to prepare them for the field?

If possible, students should get first-hand experience by volunteering, job shadowing or interning.

“Definitely I would encourage them to meet with a career adviser because that’s what we’re here for — to help be that source of information and support as students are making decisions — but outside of that, some of the things we’ll recommend to students in our sessions would be to talk with people who are in fields that interest them,” Ames said.

by Karyn Simpson, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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