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How to choose a major

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Starting college is an exciting time with new opportunities, independence and planning for the future. A great place to start is choosing a major.

Many students come to college with some kind of plan of what they would like to do when they graduate, but there are plenty of students who begin college without any idea of where to start.

Washburn offers a series of programs, and students can begin taking advantage of them by declaring an exploratory major. Jeannie Cornelius is the director for academic advising, which aids many students in their search for academic success, but also works closely with exploratory majors to help them select a plan. 

“Our office actually has quite a few things. We do what we call a major meetup, so every couple of weeks we invite faculty from a discipline over to talk kind of informally with students about career opportunities or ways to get involved on campus,” said Cornelius. 

Cornelius also mentioned that talking with other students in various majors is a great way to explore different fields. Washburn offers a myriad of introductory courses that can show students what being a particular major is like.

“Deciding on a major is a really active process. I think rarely is it some epiphany; there’s no bolt of lightning that comes down. One of the things that I ask students to do is just to start looking around at all the people they come into contact with, and what they do for a living. If you think that’s something that you might like to do, go ask them.” said Cornelius.

Another resource for students is Washburn Career Services. They can help students with career development, which involves choosing a major that fits each student, just as director Kent McAnally explained. 

“We don’t tell you what major to do, but [Career Services] will kind of help match what people like you tend to choose as majors and occupation. We do career counseling sort of in reverse, so we look at ‘what do you want to do after college?’ and that may be general or it may really narrow-focused-- we can come at that from either direction-- and then ‘what are majors that might lead to that?’ Often there’s more than one, and you still have to make a decision.” said McAnally.

There are also many things that students themselves can do to figure out which path to take. Online services such as Navigate and FOCUS2, which can be found through career services, offer personality and interest quizzes, as well as tell students what majors match searchable careers. Career services can help students set up shadowing opportunities with Washburn alumni for an inside look at particular careers. Cornelius also had great advice for students searching for a calling.

“I also have students ask the people around them. Sometimes we don’t see qualities in ourselves that other people do, so, people who know you, ask them ‘what do you see me as being good at?’ or ‘what do you think I would excel at?” said Cornelius.

Washburn does require students to select a major by their junior year, or after taking 60 credit hours. Although, the consensus from both directors is that changing majors is perfectly fine, but changing early on is best. It is also good to only switch majors between one and three times, as changing majors late in time or too many times can add time to a student’s graduation date.

One key to choosing a major and a career path, is being able to identify personal traits and strengths, as well as interests. Many working adults do deviate from their college major at some point in their career. Though choosing a major and career path does not have to last a lifetime, it is important to get started in the right direction.

“Happiness is a big part of the game, so major in something that you’re going to enjoy, and that you’re going to be successful with, that’s probably the most important thing to remember. But, at the same time, you have to analyze ‘what is it that’s going to get me where I want to be in terms of work?’... What do you want to get out of the work? How do you want it to make you feel?” said McAnally.

Choosing a major can appear to be a monumental task, but it doesn’t have to be. Visiting Washburn’s website or centers like Academic Advising and Career Services can be stepping stones to success. Not to mention, students just may find new talents and interests along the way.

Edited by Adam White, Jessica Galvin

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