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Choosing a Major


From the day you arrive at college, practically all you hear about is the need to choose a major. 

Your whole identity in college is very often linked to your major.  You are asked to make this very important decision by the end of your sophomore year and you are expected to complete the requirements for at least one major in order to graduate. 

In many cases, the people you associate with, the professors you get to know best, and even the clubs you join while you’re in college often revolve around your major. 

The beginning point for choosing a major is self-assessment. It is much better to start with yourself and to search for a major that fits you than to start by picking a major and trying to fit into it.  If you know what you are good at doing, what you enjoy doing, and what you feel is important in life, then you are on much firmer ground in finding a major that fits you.

How and When to Decide On A Major: Assessing Your Interests

Students at the College of Charleston must declare their major no later than the second semester of their sophomore year. You may have to do some careful thinking to determine what will suit you best. Therefore, before deciding a major you should ask yourself the following:

•    What are my interests?
•    What are my hobbies?
•    What were my favorite high school and college courses? Which ones did I excel?
•    What do I hate doing?
•    What do I most enjoy doing?
•    What are my strengths? Weaknesses?
•    What are my intellectual interests?
•    What do I see myself doing in a future career?

The self-exploration needed to answer these questions may well be one of the more important parts of your college education. You will discover a lot about yourself over the next few years.  Visit our Career Planning & Exploration page and learn how FOCUS can help you begin the self-assessment process.

Liberal Arts Education versus Technical Education

An understanding of major begins with an understanding of the difference in education one receives from a liberal arts school and a technical, professional school. The basic distinction is theoretical versus applied. A liberal arts college or university offers theoretical understanding of academic fields of study. The purpose of this education is to provide a broad, general education and the further development of basic, transferable skills which can be applied to a wide variety of career fields. Technical and professional colleges and the special schools of large universities teach students how to apply the theory. The purpose of this education is to provide specialized training and specific skills for a particular occupation or career field.

Offering predominantly a liberal arts education, the College of Charleston does not have as its primary purpose the training of people for specific occupations or careers. Rather, it gives students a broad educational background from which to go in many career directions. The minimum degree requirements are designed to provide students with this broad knowledge base as well as to introduce them to the entire curriculum. Almost half of the 122 credit hours required for the College of Charleston degree involves working on general education requirements.

Choosing a Major

The College also requires each student to major in at least one subject, called a discipline, to develop some expertise in at least one subject, as well as to develop the mind in advanced intellectual skills.  Majors are best chosen on the basis of interest in the subject and aptitude or ability to do well academically in the subject.

Look back at the subjects you have taken in high school and college and identify the ones you have enjoyed taking the most or the ones you would like to study more in depth. Then consider which subjects you have done the best in academically. Those subjects that you have both enjoyed the most and done the best in academically are usually the best choices for a major. Majors that do not fit your interest or aptitude are usually not good choices. In a liberal arts college, choosing a major means choosing an academic subject that you would like to study in depth. The reason a major is so important is because it is an academic requirement for graduation; not because it will determine what career or occupation you can go into.

Do you even know what your major options are available at the College of Charleston?  If not, take a look at the list of majors and minors to help you explore the possibilities!  Also, don’t forget to talk about your interests and major options with your academic advisor and/or career counselor; they can be invaluable resources as you work to identify the majors that suit those interests, academic strengths, and/or potential career goals.

Taking Advantage of Electives

Pick a minor. Combining the minimum or core academic requirements with most majors at the College often leaves as much as 30 hours of electives needed for graduation. A well-chosen minor, usually requiring 18-24 hours, or concentrated study in several subjects can be an excellent way to complete the hours needed to graduate. Look at ways to creatively combine courses that provide additional opportunities for growth and study. The exciting part is that you are completely free to use them any way you want.  Many of today's exciting career opportunities call for unusual combinations of knowledge and skills, such as:

•    Medical Illustration (Biology and Studio Art)
•    Music Therapy (Music and Psychology)
•    Genetics Counseling (Biology and Psychology)
•    News Journalist/Commentator (Political Science and Communications or Theatre)
•    Pharmaceutical Sales (Chemistry and Business)
•    Human Resources (Psychology and Business)
•    Scientific Writing (science and English)
•    Public Relations (English and Psychology)

Consider a second major. If you are having difficulty deciding between two majors, declare both of them, or at least take as many courses as you can in both. You will need to complete the requirements for at least one of them to graduate, so even if you are not able to finish the requirements in both, you will still have understanding and knowledge in two major subjects to offer.

Pursue a special interest or hobby. Select one of the many interdisciplinary studies programs at the College such as International Studies; Jewish Studies; Women's & Gender Studies; Environmental Studies; Arts Management; International Business; African Studies; Communications; Crime, Law, & Society; Data Science; Global Logistics & Transportation; or Film Studies. If none of the existing programs fit your particular interest or concern, create your own interdisciplinary program by combining other courses.

Spend a semester or year abroad at another campus. It is possible to spend a semester in Washington or go to a foreign country or attend another U.S. college. Careful planning is required to do this because of transferring credits, but it can be a very meaningful and exciting addition to your education. Contact the Center for International Education for additional information.


Develop an occupations-related skill.
Supplement your core requirements and major courses with electives that are more applied and help you develop a skill area. Courses in accounting, computer science, acting, drawing, playing a musical instrument, technical writing, journalism or a particular sport can help you develop such skills.

Prepare for graduate school.
Most graduate and professional schools do not require a specific major for admission into their school. You do not have to be a science major to go to medical school, a political science major to go to law school, a business major to go into a M.B.A. program, or a psychology major to go into a clinical psychology program. You usually do need, however, to have a core background in these subjects to be considered for admission, so by supplementing your major with core courses in a particular subject you still have the same opportunity to be accepted into graduate school. Most medical schools, for example, recommend that a student have a year of biology, a year of chemistry, a year of physics, a year of organic chemistry and calculus to be a strong candidate for admission.


Relating Majors to Careers

The relationship between a liberal arts major and a career is not nearly as direct as most people think. While majors like accounting, computer science, education or communication can be directly related to particular career fields, most majors at the College of Charleston provide general intellectual training not directly related to specific careers. The basic knowledge and skills developed in a major can be applied to a number of different career fields. Liberal arts majors do not restrict graduates to a few career choices; rather, they allow for a number of different career options. Choosing a major, then is not the same as choosing an occupation or a career. 

MAJOR ≠ CAREER

Career choices should be based on a genuine interest in the work and on having the abilities or skills needed for the work, not necessarily on a particular major. Career choices are also dependent upon good career information and the best career information usually comes from personal research and work experience outside the classroom. When studying a particular subject, you learn more about the theories and principles of the subject than about the application of the subject to work. Knowledge about the application comes from working in the field or reading about the field or talking with people in the field.

Majors do relate directly to careers in one significant way; they help with the further development of individual skills needed in a career. English majors, for example, usually develop excellent communication skills, especially writing skills. Mathematics majors develop good analytical and problem-solving skills; history and science majors develop research skills, etc.. Jobs and careers are not so much determined by majors, but on what you can do and what you want to do. You are not usually hired on the basis of your knowledge of the major, but on the skills and interests you have developed by studying the major.  For examples of the wide variety of careers associated with skills learned through various majors, check out What Can I Do With A Major In…?

Career decisions require not only more specific information about a career field and the personal skills needed to be successful in a field, but are more complex and often need to be made several times during a lifetime. According to the experts, the average American is making 7-10 jobs changes and 3-5 career changes in a lifetime. Decisions about an undergraduate major are usually made once or twice during college only. A four-year undergraduate education basically provides a foundation of knowledge and skills upon which sound career decisions can be made throughout life.

How to Declare a Major

Please visit Academic Advising & Planning Center’s website for information about declaring your major via the Program of Study Management (POSM) system online in MyCharleston. 

Major Related Events & Resources

Choosing A Major Workshops.  Each semester we hold multiple Choosing A Major workshops jointly with the Academic Advising & Planning Center.  During these hour-long workshops, we cover myths & facts about being “undeclared”, discuss the difference in choosing a MAJOR vs. choosing a CAREER, suggest steps for making your decision, and provide tools and resources to assist you in the major and career planning process.  Please check our Events page for more information on dates and times of the workshops.

Majors Fair. The Academic Advising and Planning Center in collaboration with the Career Center, the Center for Student Learning and SGA hold a Majors Fair each year.  The Majors Fair provides all undecided, exploring, or re-deciding students the opportunity to speak personally with faculty, staff and student representatives from academic programs and campus resources in one location to learn about specific requirements for majors, curriculum and career options.  For more information and dates for this year’s fair, please visit http://advising.cofc.edu/majors-fair/.

FOCUS.  This assessment provides you with personalized career and educational planning information needed to make a well-informed decision.  After working through FOCUS you are given a list of occupations that best fits your interests, abilities, and work values, as well as suggesting majors that may coincide with those occupations.  FOCUS is available at http://careercenter.cofc.edu/students/careerplanning.php.
 
What Can I Do With A Major In…?  Whether you are exploring multiple majors or searching for information about your chosen field, this site will help you connect majors to careers. Learn about the typical career areas and the types of employers that hire people with each major, as well as strategies to make you a more marketable candidate. Continue your research on majors and careers through the websites provided.

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