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Finding the major that's right for you isn't rocket science – unless you want it to be

Thursday, July 26, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – You make a lot of decisions in your life: MU or KU, cats or dogs, s’mores Poptart or strawberry Toaster Streudel, boxers or briefs.

But now that you’re at MU, there's another: What should you study during your time in college?

Choosing a major

As you get ready to embark on your academic career at MU, you may already have a major in mind. If this is your freshman year, it’s probably something broad like business, biology, journalism or, the most popular major — undeclared.

If you're feeling lost trying to choose a major, MU Academic Advisor Justin Shepherd assures students that falling into the undeclared category is nothing for incoming freshmen to worry about.

"I think that it's important to understand that it's not necessary to have a major coming in," Shepherd said. "We try to help them (students) understand that it's certainly okay and not a bad place to be, because many students end up changing their majors anyway."

According to Shepherd, students should keep in mind that a major, which can be changed later, must be declared by the end of their sophomore years or the beginning of their junior years. 

Also, students should speak with their advisors about emphasis areas, which some colleges offer. These areas of study allow students to hone in on certain aspects of or subjects related to their majors. 

Shepherd said the best way to figure out what to major in is to work on knocking out your general education requirements. Take a variety of classes, he said, to figure out which subjects pique your interest. Then, take more of those classes. Eventually, you'll find the area of study that's right for you.

Later on in their academic careers, students should speak with their advisors about emphasis areas, which some colleges within the university offer. These areas of study allow students to hone in on certain aspects of or subjects related to their majors. These areas of study, which should not be confused with minors, allow students to tailor their degrees towards their interests or future career plans.

Choosing a minor

A minor, as the name implies, is a secondary field of study. You can use a minor to pursue interests that lie outside your major or to make yourself more marketable to future employers.

For example, if you're a journalism major who wants to work in a market with a large hispanic population like Texas or California, it might be beneficial to minor in Spanish. Or, if you're set on getting a bachelor's degree in business but enjoyed acting in high school, you could minor in theatre.

But according to Shepherd, your initial year in college might not be the right time to think about a minor.

"I think that for freshman, sometimes it can be too early to start a minor," Shepherd said. "Minors are great, but more importantly are transitioning into college, being successful and figuring out majors."

Though Shepherd said students should certainly let their academic advisors know about minors they're interested in, he said many colleges won't allow students to declare minors during their freshman years.

When choosing a minor, Shepherd said students should pick something they're interested in and passionate about.

"They should think, 'If I had all the money in the world and could double major in this, would I?' If the answer is yes, they should minor in it," Shepherd said.

Switching majors

MU offers over 280 degree programs, according to the its website, so finding the right one or two can seem like a daunting task.

However, keep in mind that you have the option of switching majors. Just because you chose to become a music major on a whim after seeing "Amadeus" one too many times doesn’t mean you have to stick with it.

If you take a few classes and realize your major just isn’t right for you, pick a new one.

According to Shepherd, changing majors is hardly uncommon.

"Anywhere between 50 and 70 percent of students are going to be changing their major or some aspect of their major while they're in college on average nationwide," Shepherd said.

Before switching, talk to an adviser. Each major has different grade requirements that must be met before entering a major. Switching your major is generally easier earlier on, and might be more simple or difficult depending on your current major and your future major.

Shepherd said to remember that changing your mind isn't the end of the world – many students change their majors and still end up graduating within four years.


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