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By: Marianne Salina, Academic Advising and Assistance

We see many first year students in our office, some with questions about planning their course schedules, others who need help finding a balance between their academic lives and the many commitments they have here on campus. And we welcome all of these questions, because as advisors, we view these conversations as opportunities to help students begin establishing life skills like time management, organization, and work/life balance that become necessary down the road.

But there’s another big question that often comes through our doors every semester, and sometimes not just from our first year students: “What should I major in?” It’s often a question accompanied by anxiety and sometimes even embarrassment. Students sometimes feel sheepish or ill-equipped for college if they don’t have a clear sense of what they wish to study as soon as they arrive on campus, but the truth is, a good number of students are in the same boat. According to the Princeton Review, even for those who think they have a plan, 50% will change their majors at least once. And that’s okay.

While there are some majors, such as Engineering, which require that students adhere to a firm academic track for their four years, there are many majors that do allow for a bit of academic exploration and discovery in the first year. It’s critical that this period of exploration is supported, as it often proves to be one of the most informative stages of a student’s college experience. Undeclared students who allow for a year of exploration and inquiry can often achieve a deeper sense of commitment and clarity about the choices they make for their majors and minors, which in turn leads to a greater sense of self-actualization and personal growth—qualities we hope to see all of our students develop under the Jesuit mission.

So if your student comes home and loves classes but still hasn’t quite figured out a major, relax. Here are some tips:

  1. Stay calm and allow space for your student to work through his or her indecision. Unknowns are uncomfortable, but often the struggle of working through big questions is exactly the hard work that yields promising and fruitful outcomes.
  1. Be supportive of your student’s decision-making process by suggesting regular visits with professors, encourage appointments with AAA or the career center for additional advising, and suggest they do as much research as they can; the Internet is often a valuable tool for major discernment.
  1. Encourage your student to study what he or she is passionate about, and not just majors that ostensibly lead to the most lucrative careers. Passion will be harnessed in any number of ways in the job market. Passion leads to job fulfillment and a sense of purpose in the work world. Embrace your student’s passions and interests—even if they don’t match up with a specific career path right away.
  1. Talk to your student about everything. Talk politics, talk relationships, talk religion, talk pop music…just keep talking! Allow conversations to be organic and ask lots of questions. Sometimes all it takes is a student realizing he or she is a bit of an expert in a particular subject matter to help them dig a little deeper, and with a little time, this interest might just turn into a major.

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