Selecting Your Major
For some special certification programs, you do need to have a certain major to complete the National Certification process. (Medical Technology is an example.)
For the majority of jobs and graduate programs, though, they are more interested in what skills you have (GIS, PCR, statistical analysis, etc) than the name of your major. As long as you have a science or math degree, they assume that you have a certain amount of science literacy.
If you want to go to medical school, you can choose ANY major at MSU including studio art or english as long as you take the pre-requisite science classes.
All majors in the college will develop your ability to ask questions, judge evidence, and solve problems; something that will be of use in whatever career you choose.
Advice for picking a major:
- If you have no idea what you want to do, that’s OK. Most students don’t know. In fact, students at MSU change their major an average of four times. This is normal–as you have new experiences in college, your interests and preferences change.
- The sooner you can settle on a major, the better. It will save you a lot of time and money to research your decision early—and not have to change your major several times later.
- It pays to investigate related career areas. Opportunities in your chosen field might be limited, or you might discover something new you never thought of.
When choosing a major, think about what you like and dislike, and what your values and skills are as you begin the process of choosing a career.
It’s also important to remember that being technically brilliant, but not having any social skills, isn’t going to help you get a job either. The degree isn’t enough to guarantee you a job.
Career and Major Choice Check-list
Here are some steps to follow as you begin the process of evaluating different careers in preparation for choosing or changing a major.
What have you have enjoyed most in your life? What you have enjoyed least or have found most frustrating?
- Why did you enjoy or dislike each activity?
- Do you think that your attitude would change if you had more education or training? Would it make a difference if you did it in a different setting or with different people?
Make a list of reasons why you like to study science and a list of reasons why you don’t. Compare the two lists. Which is longer?
If your "don’t like" list is longer, you might want to examine your reasons for studying science. For a fulfilling career, there must be a good match between your natural abilities and what is expected in various professions.
What are your future family and financial plans?
- How widespread are jobs in the career field you are interested in? Will you have to move? If you marry, will you expect your partner to move to a new location with you?
- Do you have or plan to have children? Can you support them? Will your future career allow you to have time to spend with them?
- If you had to borrow money, how much debt will you carry beyond your school years? How much credit card debt do you have?
What are your personal values?
- Do you have a need to help others? To protect the environment?
- Will the career you envision allow you to express these values?
- What will the social impact of your choices be?
How well will your personality function in your future career? Think about the day-by-day activities of a career:
- Are you more comfortable working inside or outside? Do you like an environment that is constantly changing, or one that stays about the same from day to day? Do you like to travel?
- How important is the prestige of your position? Do you like the depth of a single project or the variety of a changing scene? Do you prefer a more formal or a less-formal atmosphere? How will your work mesh with family life and other obligations?
- Self-assessment tools can help you identify what kinds of work environment you prefer.
Imagine yourself in the perfect job, 10 years from now.
- What are you doing? Why do you think you imagined this particular job?
- If you can’t imagine anything, that’s OK. It just means that you need to learn more about yourself and the world of work.
Refine your Choices
- Now you know a LOT more about yourself, and what you’re looking for.
- Once you have identified some majors and careers that sound interesting, it’s time for a little more research! You want to make your choice based on sound evidence:
Do you have personal experience in the field you are interested in?
- If not, then you should try it out! You can do this by job shadowing, finding a mentor, or volunteering. You don’t want to get into your dream graduate program and discover you are allergic to the animal you’re studying.
Seek out people in careers you are interested in and interview them.
- How do they spend their time? What do they find most satisfying and most disagreeable? Does the life that they describe appeal to you? Ask them what they have learned that they wish they had known early in their careers.
What are the most important technical skills in each career you are interested in? In what MSU majors can you learn these skills?
- Remember, you might be able to major in one field (zoology) and still gain skills of value from another field (molecular biology). Check with your academic advisor to see what electives you might be able to take.
Employers value your “soft” skills, or personal qualities, as much as your technical expertise.
- For a list of what corporate recruiters are looking for, read “Seven Must Have Personal Attributes That Get You Hired” from AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science).
Freshman Year Planning
The first year of school isn’t easy. By developing good habits NOW, you will have a better experience at MSU.
- Workshops and information on study skills, test taking, memory, time management and speed reading are offered by the Learning Resource Center, 202 Bessey Hall. Their website has a schedule of workshops and advising info.
- Help with writing papers is available from the Writing Center, 300 Bessey Hall.
- Make use of your professors’ office hours. Faculty are here to help you!
- Go to class. Many studies have shown that people who go to class have higher grades. If you miss class, make sure that you get notes and materials from a classmate or buy them from one of the note-taking services.
- Explore career options through informational interviews and job shadowing.
- Get a job! Even a part-time job will build your skills and help you to make decisions about what you like—and what you don’t like —in a work environment. Handshake has listings for part- and full-time, internship, co-op, and seasonal employment.
- Volunteer! This can help you to explore careers and get some experience in an area that interests you. Plus, you’re helping others at the same time. The Service Learning Center places students in volunteer positions.
- Network with family, friends, friends of family, acquaintances, etc. to find contacts in your field(s) of interest so that you can learn more about those areas.
- If you need more help, talk to a counselor in the Counseling Center, 207 Student Services, or go to the Career Services Network to find out more ways to explore careers and majors.
Don’t forget to get a life!
While doing some serious work on your academic and career planning, treat yourself to some fun!
- Be involved in activities offered by the Residence Life staff of your hall.
- Visit the Department of Student Life for information on student organizations in your career or interest areas.
- Find out if your department or major has a club or organization that you could participate in.
- Go to the Main Library and learn how to use it. The main library also has fiction and music collections, so you can listen and read for fun as well as research.
- Go to a sporting event that interests you.
- Take a walk along the Red Cedar River.
- Visit the Kresge Art Museum.
- Go to the Intramural (IM) facility closest to you.
- See one of the Residence Hall Association (RHA) movies.
- Volunteer to take one of the dogs from the Vet Clinic for a walk.
- Go to a play, musical, concert or other performance at the Wharton Center, MSU Auditorium, Breslin Student Events Center, Fairchild Auditorium, or Music Building.
- Get involved in student government.
Faculty and other staff on campus are here to help you, so if you ever feel that you need assistance, don’t hesitate to ask. Even if you aren’t asking the right person, chances are, they can send you to the right place.
If you aren’t sure what you want to do, or just want a little reassurance about the decisions you are making, there are tools that can help. Assessment tools help you make career decisions, and are not a precise measure.
Your skills, abilities, values, interests, and personality determine what careers you will enjoy. Knowing what you like to do is the key to determining your career interests, and deciding on a major.
The MSU Career Services Network offers three different self-assessments. Each is appropriate for a different stage of your career development. These are free to all MSU students.
- The Holland Self-Directed Search is a good starting point. It helps you determine your strengths and interests. You will get a list of MSU majors that you may want to consider, based on your Holland personality type.
- BRIDGES- Choices Planner helps you assess and examine interests, work values, and beliefs about work skills. It provides information about occupations and related majors.
- Additional, and more complex assessments, are available for a fee. Talk to the CLC student mentors or your career advisor to determine which of these will work best for you.