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How to Decide on a Major

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UMass postcards with the text, How to Decide on a Major.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst offers more than 90 undergraduate majors residing in 10 schools and colleges. UMass Amherst even gives students the option to design their major through the Bachelor's Degree with Individual Concentration (BDIC). On top of this, UMass is home to a multitude of minors and certificate programs, giving students even more pathways to explore their interests and passions. 

With so many possibilities, it can be extremely nerve-racking to settle on a major, especially as a high school senior. I barely knew who I was in high school, let alone could decide my career path at 18. When I was accepted to UMass, I decided to major in English with the ambition of becoming a high school teacher. At the time, I had an interest in the subject area and thought that it could translate into a potential career path.

I can say now as a junior that is not the path that I am currently on. Through self-discovery and exploration during my college career, I discovered a love for media and technology and now aspire to explore the marketing sector of business, something that I did not even know was a possibility when I first applied to UMass as a high school senior. 

So, how do you decide on a major? Here are my three tips on how to find the perfect major for you. 

Explore Your Interests and Passions 

What makes you happy? Is it politics? Writing? Sports? Art? Exploring your interests and passions is a great starting point when deciding on a major. I think it is extremely important to major in something that aligns with your passions. Think of it like this, this is a career that you may pursue a good chunk of your working life, don’t you want to be passionate about it? As for myself, I love technology, media, and writing. These passions have sparked my decision to major in English and communication, and I feel very satisfied and fulfilled with what I am learning. Taking the time to sit down and reflect on where your interests and passions lie can help you narrow down a major that is well suited for you. 

You Do Not Need to Have It All Figured Out 

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to come into college with a major. Many students opt to start their freshman year off as undeclared or undecided (at UMass this is called "exploratory track"), meaning that they have not chosen a major at this time. This allows students to explore their career paths while already being in college, giving them more time and exposure to figure out what they want to pursue. Remember, there is no need to force yourself to settle with a major just for the sake of having one. Coming into college as undecided might be a better option for you and your needs. 

Even If you have applied to college with a major, remember it is not binding in the slightest. Let’s say you take an introductory biology course during your first semester. You are a biology major, so this introduction course is required to advance to upper-level courses. Turns out, you are not as interested in the subject area as you anticipated, and found yourself enjoying the anthropology course you are enrolled in. At any time, especially during your freshman and sophomore year, you can change your major, add a secondary one, and even pursue minors or certificates. I did not add my communication double major until the end of my freshman year. There is no need to have it all figured out before college — that is what college is for!

Listen to Your Heart 

I cannot stress this enough; you should be choosing a major for yourself, not to please friends or family. While it can be extremely stressful and discouraging to have your loved ones push certain career paths on you, at the end of the day it is your life and career, not theirs. Deciding what you want out of life should not be imposed on you by loved ones, but sadly many college students are led astray by the opinions of their loved ones and end up being miserable and regretful in the long run. 

When I was applying to colleges, my parents hated the fact that I wanted to pursue a liberal arts degree. For them, it was a waste of time and money. What could I possibly do with an English degree? Instead, they pushed me to major in the sciences. Something like nursing would set me up for life, my dad always said. I continuously pushed back at their demands and reinforced how terrible I was at math and science, and how unhappy the thought of having to do that for the rest of my life made me. While I did have to work extremely hard to prove the worthiness of my English and communication degrees, my parents have come around to my decision, and I could not be happier with where I am in my career. 

I know it can be scary, and even financially draining, to go against the wishes of your loved ones when deciding on a major — but you have to do what is right by you, not others. I promise it will all work out in the end and you will be truly happy with listening to your own needs over others. 


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