UMass Amherst Office of Parent Services

Office of Parent Services

Timely Topics

Undergraduate Advising: Making the Most of the Major

As students begin course registration for Fall 2014, they may find themselves contemplating majors, minors, and certificates—either because it is time for them to declare one or they want to change or add a new one. Here are some things for parents to keep in mind when discussing your student’s major and academic interests.

If there’s one point we drive home to students - undeclared or declared - it’s this:

Major ≠ Career

There are a FEW exceptions, of course – engineering, accounting, nursing, and perhaps a couple of others – but by in large, in this economy and world, students can expect to be working in a career that may only indirectly relate to their undergraduate major. A recently released study by CareerBuilder found that 47% of college graduates said their first job out of college was NOT related to their college major. Even in highly technical fields, positions are filled by graduates from a host of majors, not all of them in the math/science arena. And of course we know that all history and English majors don’t just teach high school! They present a host of valuable skills (many of them honed through both major AND General Education courses, such as inquiry and analysis; quantitative, ethical, critical and creative thinking and problem-solving; communication, collaboration, research, organization, and a basic work ethic.

As we work with students, we emphasize the importance of their studying something that will excite and engage them – within their major and also within a minor or certificate program. It’s no secret that employers hire and promote people on the quality of their work and their ability to adapt and contribute and these attributes shine through in a resume or interview as good grades and active, enthusiastic participation in academic and extra-curricular experiences (at UMass and beyond). We help students understand that their academic program is enhanced (and made more marketable) through the tangential aspects of their college experience that they’ve been passionate about, such as study abroad , Domestic Exchange , Five College Interchange , community and service learning , research and internships .

As a parent, you may find this information disarming. Students tell us all the time about parents pushing them into majors/fields they believe will be the most stable (there is no such thing!) or net the highest starting salary. All parents want the best for their child, and desperately hope for a secure future for them. How can you assist your undergrad as s/he navigates this new landscape? Ask questions, and mirror back what you see sparks your child’s interest and curiosity. Start conversations with:

- Academically, what most interests you? What subjects do you like best, or what approaches to thinking?

- What are your priorities, as you think about a career that you will find satisfying? What will sustain you, and afford you room for growth?

Also, encourage your student to explore the myriad opportunities available at UMass, and to do it early enough to be able to fit options into their academic program. Encourage her/him to go to Career Services to learn about internship possibilities (it’s recommended that students have THREE internship experiences by the time they graduate) and to begin to use the resources that will help to match up personality types and possible careers (have them check out this new tool at Career Services . Prompt your student to talk with UMass faculty and staff about their interests and ideas, and to pursue ways to bring them to fruition.

Finally, for a little outside perspective on college majors and employment, check out these two pieces:

- Does the College Major Really Matter? Not Really. by Jeffrey Selingo

- Your College Major May Not Be As Important As You Think by Zac Bissonnette

Both are from the New York Times. Note the snippet at the start of the second article, where Ted Turner’s father was chastising him for studying Classics. Turner never completed his college degree from Brown (he was expelled) – but he certainly was ‘successful,’ by cultural standards.

The world your college students will be entering when they graduate is not the same world you entered. Rest assured that UMass offers numerous individuals and offices where students can seek support and prepare to make the most of their talents and experiences. Encourage them to draw upon those resources, and do it early enough to make good use of the opportunities available!

KD Maynard

Director of Undergraduate Advising