Expert Answer:Self-Reflection: Majors and Careers

Answer & Explanation:Why did you select your current major? What are your post-graduate aspirations? What do you hope to accomplish at UCLA to help you navigate the college-to-career transition? What specific questions do you feel the Career Center can address to help you achieve your academic/career goals?
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132
Chapter 5: Degrees, Majors, and Careers at the Research University
Some faculty deal with crashers right away; others wait until the end of class. Be prepared
either way. Also, persistence pays off in crashing. The more class periods you attend, the better your chances. If you really need or want a class, come to the first three or four sessions
before giving up. You would be surprised how many students who are enrolled drop the
class during the first week or fail to show up. If a spot does open up, you will be in line to
get it. And if one doesn’t, the instructor might just add you anyway because of your perseverance. Of course, if you are attempting to crash a course, demonstrate that you would make a
positive contribution to the class by arriving on time, paying attention, and participating in
class discussions when appropriate.
Selecting Majors and Minors
One of the many good things about attending a research university is that a degree from one is
usually highly regarded by employers and graduate schools. In general, research universities
tend to be more selective in their admissions process, which means that they can attract the
best and brightest students in addition to world-renowned faculty. Together, these things create a prestigious institution of higher education. This positively affects students’ postgraduate
options because the students will possess a nationally respected degree. Because the final
degree is prestigious, this increases the students’ ability to pursue a wide range of majors.
Each university, and sometimes even each college within the same university, has its own
process for declaring majors, which is the formal way a student indicates the major she or he
plans to complete upon graduation. Usually, the process involves some kind of formal paperwork so that the appropriate departments are notified and the student’s choice of major can be
tracked. Some majors are open to anyone, so any interested student can declare them. Other
majors require a certain level of competency, so there may be auditions or certain minimum
criteria that must be met in order to pursue them. You will want to read about these policies
in your university’s catalog or speak to an academic advisor to learn more. The timing of when
to declare a major usually depends on three things: the university’s policies, a student’s ability
to find something that she or he wants to major in, and the need to graduate within four
years. Needless to say, these things will not always be in perfect alignment.
The best way to select a major is based on two criteria: interest and aptitude. First and
foremost, the student should pick a major on the basis of his or her interests. It is very difficult for a student to pursue four years of study and excel in classes that he or she does not
find interesting. Lack of interest directly and negatively affects a student’s focus and enthusiasm for a class, both of which are necessary to perform strongly. Aptitude is also a strong
factor in determining an appropriate major. Unfortunately for first-year students, lack of university experience, appropriate workload management, and academic skills can influence their
ability to perform well. Aptitude can be accurately assessed only when these other issues are
handled—usually by the end of the first year. Only when these adjustments to university-level
work have been made can a student truly know whether she or he is good in a subject.
Generally, if a student is working very hard, using all of the university resources that are
available, and is still doing poorly, then it is safe to assume that the student will probably not
be strong in that particular discipline. Although students may still choose to pursue the discipline, they might find that they have to work far harder than their peers and still might not do
quite as well. When students find the perfect blend of interest and aptitude, they look forward
to attending their classes and doing their homework, and they generally feel that it is easy to
excel. See “Sarah’s Story from the Path.”
Needless to say, students who choose their major on the basis of interest and aptitude
tend to do well in their major classes, and this opens many doors in the worlds of both graduate school and employment. They will often have a high GPA and can get strong letters of
recommendation, both of which are important for postgraduate opportunities. See “Point of
Interest: Choosing a Major.”
Enrolling in Your Courses

SARAH S STORY FROM THE PATH
I came to school this year without any idea about
what I wanted to major in. I just started taking classes
to fulfill the general educational requirements, hoping
that I would get some ideas. My first quarter, I took classes in a variety of topics: history, classics, and philosophy.
I enjoyed them all, but I really liked my classics class, so I
took another one my second quarter, along with biology,
art history, and geology. Again, my classics class stood
out as the most interesting and enjoyable. That quarter,
I was also enrolled in the freshman experience course.
One of our lectures was on finding a major, and the
speaker talked about how important it is to find a
133
passion, something you love to study. It hit me right
there in class. I love to study classics! The reading is
totally interesting to me, and I looked forward to every
lecture. So I have declared the classics major and am
really happy. It s a very small department so I already
know most of the faculty, and I am doing a directed reading with one of my professors. Luckily, my parents have
been really supportive of my choice. I am not sure yet
what I will do for a career, but I have time to figure
that out. There are actually lots of career possibilities
for classics majors, and I can always expand my options
with some internships, which I will be looking into next
quarter.

Early in a student’s college experience, the urgency to declare a major depends on the
complexity of major requirements. Students in the sciences usually need to get started early
on their major course work because it involves so many year-long series of science courses. If
they want to graduate within four years, students in the sciences need to begin their major
requirements the first term. While second-year students can certainly begin a science major,
they will usually not be able to complete it within four years. However, this might be a fine
trade-off if they truly want to pursue the sciences as a lifelong career.
In addition, students in certain technical and arts majors may have been admitted to a
particular college or program. Changing majors out of that general discipline might require a
change of colleges or academic programs, and this may even involve an application process.
CHOOSING A MAJOR Remember, choosing
a major is about discovering what you would like to
study. Here are three simple ways to see if a major
might be for you. One is to read about the major in your
general catalog. There is usually a description of the discipline
and the specific subfields that are offered at your campus.
Read the course descriptions, both introductory and more
advanced. If you find a lot of classes that sound interesting
to you, then you might enjoy this major.
Second, visit the campus bookstore and peruse the
shelves associated with that particular major. Look at
the books that are assigned for different classes. Glance
over the table of contents and skim a few pages. If they
sound interesting to you and like something you would
like to read, then that is another clue that it might be
worth exploring.
Finally, talk to more advanced students in the major.
Find juniors and seniors and ask them about the classes
and the overall major. Remember to account for personal differences like interests, aptitudes, and learning
styles. If you like what you hear, that is another good
sign that you should check out this major by taking a
course or two and then deciding for yourself.
How do you know whether a class or discipline interests you enough to consider it as a major? A discipline is
a good bet for a major when the following are true for
you on a regular basis:
You find yourself looking forward to a class.

You don t want to miss class.
You find the reading enjoyable and intriguing.
You enjoy doing the assignments.
You highly recommend the class or discipline to
others.
If you are not sure about what career opportunities
might be available, meet with a career or major advisor.
You might just be surprised at how many opportunities
there are even for majors that seem somewhat limited
in terms of career potential. For example, many students and families assume that sociology majors are
limited to careers in social work. This is simply not
true. The American Sociological Society identifies a
wide range of career opportunities for people with a
degree in sociology, including jobs in business, social service, government, journalism, politics, public relations,
public administration, law, education, medicine, criminal
justice, social work, counseling, advertising, real estate,
public health, environment, finance, investing, and
writing.
134 Chapter 5: Degrees, Majors, and Careers at the Research University
While some majors and colleges have strict policies like those previously outlined in this
section, many do not. Many majors can be finished within two years and so can be declared by
the end of the sophomore year and the student still will be able to finish the degree within
four years. This type of timeline can allow a student to explore a wide range of options
through general education and elective courses that lead to the selection of a major. You will
want to find out about these policies and options at your university by consulting the catalog
or an academic advisor.
Some majors, usually the most popular or crowded ones, might have some type of screening process to handle the demand. There might be a set of courses that all students who are
interested in that major must complete, and there might even be a minimum GPA that must
be met. In such cases, the introductory classes are often difficult and very competitive, as the
intention is to weed out the less serious or apt students. If you are interested in one of these
majors, be sure you really focus on doing well by utilizing your resources (office hours, study
groups, tutors, etc.). If you fail to meet the GPA requirement, you will not be allowed to pursue the major, and you will have to find another one.
Changing a major depends on the complexity of the majors and the timing in which the
change occurs. Changing a major is usually accomplished through filling out a form or an
online process. Changing from one major to another will be affected by all of the issues stated
in this section, and this can limit some possibilities. If done quite late, it certainly can affect
whether the student will be able to graduate within four years. In fact, some campuses do not
allow students to begin a more complex major if they seek to do so after the second year. This
is because many research universities are committed to graduating their students in a timely
manner in order to accommodate future incoming classes. Visit an academic advisor to learn
more about your options. See “Point of Interest: When to Drop a Major.”
Many universities offer students the option of pursuing double majors and/or minors. A
double major usually means that the student completes the work for two complete majors, with
little or no overlap. To do this, some programs require students to use their elective courses for
the second major. Minors are less work than a full major but still provide a significant amount of
contact with the discipline. Not all academic departments that offer majors offer a minor, so
explore the options at your campus. In addition, speak with an academic advisor to ensure that
WHEN TO DROP A MAJOR
When a
student selects a major, it is often for reasons
that have little to do with the actual major. The student might believe that a certain major will lead to a certain
career or will ensure a certain future earning level. As
already stated, it is very important to explore these
beliefs and expectations with career and academic advisors
at your campus so that you can make accurate and
informed choices. However, it will still be important that
you actually enjoy the major that you finally choose.
Some majors sound great when you read the catalog but
are disappointing in reality. Or they might be great majors,
but a student cannot seem to perform at a level that is
competitive with his or her peers.
This is the bottom line: If you have tried the suggestions I have previously offered (in terms of choosing
classes wisely and finding faculty you enjoy) and you
are still not enjoying or doing well in the major, do not
pursue it! The major is clearly not a good match based
on the criteria of interest and aptitude, and you would
be better served by finding another major. I have seen
students stick with majors that they either did not enjoy
or were not good at, and it was painful to watch. These
students spent four years in drudgery, unmotivated to
attend class, unenthusiastic about learning, and, inevitably, unimpressive to future graduate programs and
employers because of their grades.
I truly believe that every person has a passion, something that makes your heart sing and that you find interesting and exciting. It is important for you to find that
for yourself. There are many great assessment tools
(see next section) that can point you in the right direction, but ultimately, you have to listen to yourself and
what you find compelling. This might be very different
from what your parents wish for you or from what is
supported by others. Ultimately, it is you who sits in
the desk every day and must spend this precious time
of your life focusing your energy on your studies. It is
imperative that you make selections on the basis of your
preferences and passions.
The Connection between Majors and Careers
135
SO HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
You will be held responsible for knowing relevant
academic policies and adhering to relevant deadlines.
You will also be expected to seek help if and when
you are confused. In addition, in order to maximize
your university experience, you will want to know
the options available to you in terms of majors and
minors. Take a moment to look in your university’s
documents or its website to determine the following
information:
Academic advising in your college —
Location:
Deadlines for this term —
To pay fees:
To drop a course: …
To add a course: …
To change grading options: …
To withdraw: …
To file an incomplete: …
To declare a major: …
Phone:
Website:
Can students double major?
Y
N
Can students major and minor? Y N
Academic advising in your major—
Three majors or minors that interest you:
Location:
1.
Phone:
2.
Website:
3.
you clearly understand the process for pursuing these options and how to do so without taking
too long to graduate.
The options of double majors and minors are usually considered when a student is genuinely interested in more than one field of study. In addition, these options allow the student to
put two fields of study together in preparation for a unique career. A double major of any field
paired with a foreign language opens up opportunities for international work as well as domestic careers in areas in which there are multilingual communities or clients. Be sure to explore
these options with a career advisor on your campus so that you choose wisely and are not
following out-of-date or inaccurate information. It is through these options that students can
maximize their education at a research university with savvy career preparation that will poise
them for successful careers.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MAJORS
AND CAREERS
Most students and their families rightfully believe that a person who earns a bachelor’s degree
has more employment opportunities than a person who does not. In addition, the salary earnings
over a person’s lifetime can be far greater for a college graduate, with even more earnings possible
with postgraduate degrees. Data from the College Board indicates that a person with a bachelor’s
degree earns nearly $22,000 more per year than a person whose education ended with high
school (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2010). That is more than a million dollars over a career lifetime.
With this in mind, many students and parents believe that the path to high-paying
jobs begins with the selection of the major. However, this is not true for most careers. Most
careers, including the “popular” ones, such as medicine or law, can be pursued with a variety
136
Chapter 5: Degrees, Majors, and Careers at the Research University
of undergraduate majors. The careers that do require a certain major are the professional or technical careers, such as engineering or nursing, in which a specific course of study is required to have
the qualifications needed for most entry-level jobs. Students who wish to pursue these careers
spend their undergraduate years in a focused and intense program of study.
Most students and their families have expectations that an undergraduate education serves
as a form of vocational preparation —in other words, training for a specific job. This is true at
some colleges, especially those that offer specific job-training courses such as hotel management or journalism, but it is generally not true at research universities. However, degrees
from research universities are considered prestigious because employers usually seek the
critical-thinking, analytical, and writing skills that are taught at a research university. Employers know that students will have learned the latest theories and information for a field and,
better yet, will have the skills to stay abreast of future developments.
Because classes at a research university do not teach other specific career or job skills,
many students choose to augment their degree with job-preparation activities. All students
can gain this applied knowledge and job-skill training by utilizing research opportunities, holding several internships, and taking advantage of university workshops on important job skills
such as public speaking, leadership, and computing. Consult with the career services office at
your university for more information about what is offered on or near your campus. Regardless of the major, most students can build an impressive resume while in college by designing
their own vocational preparation program.
Common Career Myths
.
Several career myths are widely held by students and parents alike.
.
Myth #1: There is a strong relationship between a college major and a specific career.
This is simply not true. In almost every career field, you will find successful people who
have a wide range of college majors, with the exception of careers that require a strong
background in technical training, such as engineering. This means that most undergraduate students can choose from a whole host of majors and still pursue almost any career
that interests them. With this said, it is important that students and their parents not
let these myths dictate the students’ choices for a major. It is truly a shame when
students limit their focus to one or two majors without even trying a wide range of
classes. High school students have never been exposed to most of the disciplines they
will find at a research university, so how can they select a focused field of study
without exploring their options? And how good can a choice be if it is based on
misinformation or myths? The best way to seek advice about career planning is to visit
the career services office at your university. The staff there can give you concrete
information on the various paths that lead to certain careers, the salaries and opportunities that various careers offer, and other …
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