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University Advising Center

Common Mistakes Students Make in Choosing a Major

Students usually begin their exploration of majors with some preconceived ideas about the best ways to go about choosing a major and about what impact that choice will have. Unfortunately, many of these ideas are mistakes that can deter real progress.

Listed below are some of the most common misperceptions about choosing a major and an explanation of how these misperceptions can cloud your educational vision.

Misperception #1:  The best way to find out about a major is to take a class in it.

Misperception #2:  I'll just get my General Education Requirements out of the way first.

Misperception #3:  Picking a major and a career are basically the same thing.

Misperception #4:  Choosing one major means giving up all the others.

Misperception #5:  The major I pick now will determine my lifelong career.

  
Misperception #1:   The best way to find out about a major is to take a class in it.

Scheduling an introductory course is one way to learn about a particular major, but it may not be the best way, especially if you are just beginning the exploration process. Here are some reasons why:

  • If you schedule a course just to learn more about a major and then decide against that major, you will have eliminated one major but you will not have selected one. Deciding on majors by eliminating them one course at a time is obviously inefficient and time-consuming.
  • Sometimes it is not possible for students to schedule courses in a major until after they are actually enrolled in that major.
  • You can often learn a great deal about a course and a major just by browsing through the required textbooks, reading the course syllabi, and sitting in on a few class meetings before deciding whether or not to schedule a course in that major.


Misperception #2:   I'll just get my General Education Requirements out of the way first.

Wayne State's list of General Education courses is very broad, but not every course on the list can be used in every major. Here are just a few examples:

  • Although students in some majors or colleges may select any natural science courses from the list, students in other majors, pre-professional programs, or colleges must select two or three different types of natural sciences courses. In some majors, students must schedule very specific natural science courses and only those courses.
So you can see that, while you are exploring majors, you should select your General Education courses very carefully. Your advisor should be able to assist you in this selection process.




Misperception #3:   Picking a major and a career are basically the same thing.

When students talk about choosing a major, they often mean choosing a career (and vice versa). Although these two choices can go hand-in-hand, choosing one does not automatically mean you have chosen the other. Here are just a few examples:

  • Some people assume that students who major in the arts, humanities, or social sciences are either not qualified for any jobs (What can you do with a degree in philosophy?) or qualified only for careers in those specific areas. Actually, students who earn undergraduate degrees in theatre, history, psychology, and similar majors find jobs in business, research, human resources, teaching, the military, and a variety of other occupations.
  • Many students who decide on a career in law automatically assume that they should major in pre-law. The reality is that a student can choose any major and still be accepted into law school. A student majoring in business might be interested in corporate law, for example.
Choosing a major does not limit you to only one career choice; choosing a career does not limit you to only one major.



Misperception #4:   Choosing one major means giving up all the others.

There are a variety of ways for students to combine their interests in more than one major. It is possible, for example, for students to complete double majors, co-majors or concurrent degrees. Wayne State also offers many different minors which often can be completed in little or no extra time or credits.

Sometimes students who investigate the requirements for combining majors/degrees decide instead to complete just one undergraduate degree and then go on for a master's degree. Post-baccalaureate degrees do not have to be in the same area as an undergraduate degree. A student who earns a bachelor's degree in music, for example, might go on to earn a master's degree in business administration. A student with an undergraduate degree in mathematics, on the other hand, might go on to earn a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate or a master's degree in computer science.



Misperception #5:   The major I pick now will determine my lifelong career.

Studies have shown that within 10 years after graduation most people are working in careers that are not directly connected to their undergraduate majors.

Just as some students change their minds about their majors, some graduates change their minds about their careers. There are physicians, for example, who decide to become lawyers and lawyers who decide to become physicians. More commonly, though, people change their jobs while remaining in a related occupational area (a teacher, for example, might become a principal or a superintendent within a school district).

Jobs also change over time, whether people want them to or not. Many jobs that exist today will be performed in very different ways five years from now or may even be obsolete by then. New types of jobs are emerging every year, and most of us have no way of knowing what those jobs will be or what type of education will be needed in order to qualify for them. Consequently, the current emphasis in career planning at the undergraduate level is on the development of general, transferrable skills (writing, speaking, computer literacy, problem-solving, team-building) that employers want and that graduates will need in order to adjust to rapidly-changing careers.

People change; careers change. The connection between the major that you select now and the career that you will find yourself in 10 years from now is likely to be very thin indeed.

Adapted from "Major Decisions," by Michael J. Leonard. Copyright 1996-1999, The Pennsylvania State University. All rights reserved.

2/16/2007