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Choosing or Changing a Major

While many students enter college with a major choice already made, nearly 70 % change their minds in the first two years.  Acknowledging that you are undecided may actually put you ahead of the pack.  Our goal in the Center for Student Success is to not only help you choose a major, but help you choose the right major for you.

I am ready to declare!


What’s the hurry?

You should have a goal of declaring your major sometime during your sophomore year if you intend to graduate in four years.  Most majors require at least two years to complete their requirements.  Usually they also require foundation classes that can be taken in your first year.    Some large, sequentially designed majors in the sciences should be started right away. The Recommended Four Year Plans can help you plan your first semester.


Common Myths

Myth: There is something wrong with me because I have not decided what I want to do for the rest of my life!
Fact:  Pushing yourself to make a decision without knowing what you really want wastes time in the long run.  Choosing a major is a complex process that takes time, research, and most of all, self-awareness.

Myth: Choosing a major is a huge decision that will get me a specific job or career.
Fact: A major is a label for a body of knowledge.  Colleges use these labels to organize programs and students.  The same interests could lead to several different majors, and the same major could lead to many careers.  Likewise, different majors could lead to the same career.  Example:  Someone who enjoys dealing with people and has good problem-solving skills could enjoy studying psychology, marketing, web design, political science, philosophy or management.  That same person might go on to become a lawyer, school teacher, event planner, civil servant, police officer, or counselor. Choose your major based on what you love to study and  where your natural skills point you.

Myth: My employer will give me on the job training.  All I need to do is concentrate on my courses and grades.
Fact: Of course, your primary goal is to do well in your classes!  Many employers do not care which major you had, but want to see that you maintained at least a 3.0 GPA, demonstrating your work ethic and your intelligence.  However, employers definitely look for students who have some work experience.  Remember, your major will not get you a job.  Your job experience will. Visit the Cahill Career Development Center early in your sophomore year to find out more about work and service learning opportunities.


Tips on Decision Making

STEP 1 Recognize and define the decision to be made.  “I need to decide on a major within two years.”

STEP 2 Gather all available information.   Read the catalog.  No joke.  It has all information on course descriptions, linking majors to careers, and joint programs with graduate schools.  Go to School events.  Ask questions.  Go to The Cahill Career Development Center to do some of their computer tests (Focus, Discover) that help you recognize your abilities.  Consider taking the PLACE course. Talk with people you know who are juniors and seniors.  Talk to professional advisors. The Center for Student Success specializes in helping students choose majors.  Get a summer job that is related to a field you are interested in. This is an ongoing process that can begin NOW!  Think about which subjects interest you, in which ones you get the best grades.  Remember, with few exceptions, your major doesn’t have to sound like a job title.  You’ll likely have several careers before you retire.  Plan for ALL of them with a liberal arts education.

STEP 3 Focus on your top choices.  You are, for example, sure you will be in Social Science but not sure if you will major in Psychology, Social Work, or Sociology.  Choose classes that will help you make your decision.  Talk with the faculty in those majors.  Consider double majoring, or having a major and a minor.

STEP 4 Assess the risks and count the costs.  For example, Visual Arts is where you really shine, but you heard Communications will offer more job prospects.  Remember, majors don’t get you a job.  Job experience does.  No matter which major you choose, you should get co-op or internship experience before you graduate.  Become a leader in a campus organization, volunteer, AND do well in your academics.

STEP 5 Make an initial decision.  By your sophomore year, you should have a pretty clear idea what your major will be.  Remember to be realistic about restricted majors.  Again, make your grades your top priority.  When you are ready, meet with the convener of your major to declare. “Change of Major” forms are available through the Registrar’s office website.

STEP 6 Develop your plans.  Think about what you will take for your junior and senior years.  Use the Four Year Plans to help you know whether or not you will be able to double major, have a minor, study abroad, etc.  Use whatever electives you have in a fun and constructive way.  Remember, Ramapo has very affordable Study Abroad opportunities and some scholarships to defray the costs.

STEP 7 Evaluate your choice.  Did you make the right decision?  Are you enjoying yourself? Doing well academically?  Do you feel part of the campus community?

STEP 8 Re-evaluate as needed.  Get in the habit of checking your satisfaction with where you are and where you are going.

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What All College Students Should Ask Themselves

While acknowledging the link between major and career choice, be sure you understand what that link really is.  College is NOT vocational training.  You definitely should be focusing on skill development, but what skills are the most important?  How do you develop them?  Recent studies have shown that people entering the workforce today can expect to have as many as five separate careers!  How can you prepare for all of them?  The following questions ask you about your transferable skills.  Below are examples of how you can improve on these skills and how they are directly linked to your future success.  Develop these and you will be prepared for whatever situation your future brings.

How well do you write? 

This does not end with passing English.  How well do you express yourself?  Can you summarize your accomplishments and describe yourself in an intelligent and insightful way?  You will have plenty of opportunity while at Ramapo to polish your writing skills.  Improve now when you are in  this nurturing environment.  If your resume or cover letter is grammatically incorrect, or your field reports are scattered ramblings, you’ll not be told to get tutoring, you’ll just be unemployed.  Write with care.  The more you practice, the better you will write.

How well do you speak?

This excludes buzzwords and the latest cliche.  “I’m a people person” doesn’t really separate you from the maddening crowd.  Be careful not to pick up habits like ending every statement as if it where a question?  It can erode your credibility.  If you can’t talk with some fluency about subjects in which you specialize, then why would a company want to hire you?  Everyone gets nervous speaking in public. Truthfully, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.  Take a speech class, or try out for a play.  Use the required presentations you’ll have in your classes as opportunities to improve your public speaking skills.

How well do you listen?

Do you listen selectively?  In a job interview, do you focus on the vacation time and drift off when your interviewer describes what projects will be your responsibility?  Make sure you focus.  If you should, take notes.  Paying attention to someone is the greatest form of flattery, and you might be surprised on how much detailed information you remember.  At school, you practice this every time you listen to a lecture and take good notes.  Focus.

Can you make a decision? 

You practice doing this by choosing your major.  You make many decisions every day.  Should you study for your midterm or write your research paper?  Should you take Anthropology or Psychology?  Don’t be passive.  Participate in making the decisions that affect your life.  You would be surprised how many people are actually more comfortable having someone else tell them what is right for them.  You live your life, no one else.  You make the choices.  Take advice from people you respect, but make your own decision.

Can you think on your feet?

You can develop this skill best pressure situations.  In college, you may find yourself in a heated debate in a seminar class.  You are constantly reacting to the discussion around you.  Can you formulate new opinions based on changing information?  Can you analyze the situation and understand the dynamics of influence and power?  Can you listen to your boss’s assessment of budget cutbacks and come up with suggestions to minimize the effect?  Can you listen to the news on the way into work and project how it could affect your company?  Your school?  Your family?

How personable are you?

You should also think about how you are developing as a person.  Are you considerate?  Does everyone have to conform to your needs, or can you be flexible when necessary?  Can you empathize?  Do you understand that people come from various cultures and may not understand the world in the same way you do?  Are you clean and presentable?  Yes, it’s true.  People notice.  These are skills you have been developing for years.  In the unique situations college provides, focus on expanding your understanding of the world.  Take this time to grow both intellectually and personally.

As an educated, thoughtful, articulate, mature person, you can be successful not only in the series of careers your future may bring, but in all aspects of your life.  

An education in the Liberal Arts offers you this.