Choosing & Using Your Major

As spring registration quickly approaches, the task of choosing a major, or at least narrowing your choices, is on the minds of most sophomores.  But how does one choose? Since your arrival at Haverford, undoubtedly you’ve heard at least one advisor say, “Study what you love!”  It’s just as likely you’ve heard someone else say something to the effect of, “choose a practical major, one that will help you get a job.” I’ve talked with many students, and parents, who fear those two considerations are mutually exclusive. The good news is there are countless stories of Haverford alumni who dove deeply into their favorite subject matter and went on to pursue meaningful, interesting, and rewarding careers– sometimes with close connections between their major and career, but quite often not.

The point is not that your major doesn’t matter, but rather that throughout your time at Haverford you will develop a variety of valuable transferable skills and competencies that will help you in your professional lives. Some of you will pursue careers that require specific knowledge and content skills you will develop through your majors or concentrations. Many of you, however, will find yourself on a path in which you apply the broad range of both specific and general skills (i.e. writing, public speaking, analysis, etc.) that you will refine during your time as an undergraduate student.

The major as a means to an end– digging deep to develop cognitive and scholarly skills 

When I asked my fellow deans to share a few nuggets of wisdom on the topic of choosing a major, Dean Watter reiterated the importance of transferable skills. “The major is a means to an end (or ends), with those ends being development of cognitive and scholarly skills (analysis, synthesis, critical thinking, etc.), that one will use for the rest of one’s life.  Any major will get you them, so, unless you are planning to go to graduate school in a particular discipline, major in what you love to think about and study.  That way, you will dig deeply into the major and further develop those skills/talents noted above.”

When choosing a major, be challenged, be interested, and be empowered

First Year Dean Michael Martinez shared “what you choose to major in is supposed to be interesting, challenging, and empowering. Students often lose sight of both the interest and empowerment factor and focus too heavily on the challenge or practicality of the choice. They choose majors regardless of how they do and whether it suits their strengths and leaves them feeling good about themselves.” Similarly, in his article Choosing a Practical Major, Dean Bean encourages students to study a subject that sharpens their mind, and explains why such an approach is critical.

Choosing your academic “home”

Of course, there is a great deal more to consider in choosing a major than career prospects. Dean Denney reminds students “they are choosing a major and not a life course. But they are also choosing a group of faculty and student colleagues with whom they will spend two years, and a set of questions and conversations that will occupy a lot of their time and energy.” When exploring majors it’s important to think about which department feels like the best fit for your personality and preferred approach to learning.

Where to begin?

  • Visit the websites of the academic departments that interest you. Review the major requirements, the senior thesis or project expectations, course descriptions, and faculty research interests.
  • Make an appointment with the department chair or other faculty members to discuss your interest and ask questions about the program.
  • Speak with upperclassmen in the major(s) about their experiences in the department to help you decide if the major is a good fit for you.
  • Speak with your dean and others whose opinions you value about how your interests and abilities fit with prospective majors.
  • Visit the What Can I Do With My Major? resource on the CCPA’s Majors & Career page, and make an appointment at the CCPA (in Stokes 300) if you have further questions about majors and career.

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