Deciding on the Right Major for You
Many first-year students enter college with an interest in one or two academic paths, while others feel comfortable exploring several majors before they make a commitment. Perhaps a smaller number of students arrive on campus with an unwavering commitment to a specific major. What do all of these students have in common? Most incoming students—and this would also include potential major changers—typically feel at least a degree of uncertainty about their course of study. This is okay, as long as uncertainty does not lead to indecisiveness and switching from one major to another without good reasons to do so.
The resources and tools provided on this page will help you make one of the most important decisions of your life—that is, to explore, test, and decide on a major that matches your interests, abilities, and skill sets and leads to one or more career possibilities.
Students must complete a major as defined by a department or approved program, including approved interdisciplinary majors and programs.
- Grade point average: At least a C average (2.00)
- Major declaration: When students achieve junior status (i.e., have earned 15 units of credit), although they are free to do so prior to that time. Juniors will have a hold placed on their registration until they declare a major. Students who have not decided on a major or have not met the requirements for their desired major by the deadline should declare their intention to major by selecting the "Conditional Major" option. Once declared, students can change their major.
- Requirements for a major: A minimum of eight to a maximum of 15 full-unit or 1.25-unit courses. No more than 13 courses in a single discipline (English, mathematics, computer science, French, as examples) and no more than 17 course within a single department (Mathematics and Computer Sciences, as examples) may be counted in the 34 units required for graduation.
- Exceptions to the limit of courses for a major: Education majors and students with a double major in Geography and Geology (See the catalog for more details.)
At Ohio Wesleyan University, you can choose a path of study from almost 90 majors. To help you make this decision, you might review the requirements for one or more majors. Here are several questions you might consider, and link to OWU Majors and Minors
- How many courses are required for the major?
- What prerequisites must be taken before you can take additional courses in the major?
- What course or courses are recommended for the first semester or the first year?
- Is there a sequence of courses required for the major? If so, when should you take the first course in the sequence, and what are the implications if you fall behind?
- What courses are required for all students in the major?
- What might be the most challenging courses in the major?
- Are there minimum grade requirements for certain courses in the major?
- What major courses are taught each semester, one semester a year, and one semester every two years?
- Do students complete the distribution and competency requirements for most majors, or are there exceptions?
- What courses will count toward fulfilling requirements for more than one major concentration in the department?
- What are potential obstacles or challenges of the major that may make it more difficult to fulfill requirements for all degrees and/or major requirements?
- Are there recommended but not required courses for the major?
- Do you need to complete additional language courses (typically two) beyond 110 and 111 for your (non-language) major?
- What major courses have a required writing component or are designated as writing-option courses?
- Are there courses that need to be completed, GPA expectations met, or a portfolio submitted (and approved) before you can apply for the major or be accepted into a program?
- What off-campus or out-of-class experiences (e.g., study abroad, internships, or field experience) are required for the major?
- Are senior students expected to exhibit their work in a show, submit a portfolio, write a thesis, or complete some other capstone work or project?
- Will fulfilling the requirements for a certain major make it more challenging to complete a double major in four years?
- Most students enter college certain about their majors and career options: Many students, even students committed to a major, feel uncertainty about their course of study and its connection to a career path. Being undeclared does not mean you are indecisive; exploring major and career possibilities can be a positive experience—and preferable to choosing a major that may not be a good academic match.
- Taking an introductory course is the best way to learn about a major and department: Taking an introductory course is one way to help you decide on a possible course of study, but not the only way. You can also review major requirements and attend departmental events, such as open houses and picnics, where you can talk to faculty and student majors about the academic program. Also note that your interest level may be lower in introductory courses because instructors cover a wide range of topics without the focus and depth you receive in upper-level courses. Consider the topics you found most engaging in your introductory course and determine if there are upper-level courses focused on these interests.
- Deciding on a major means deciding on a career: Although selecting a major and a career are often related, selecting one does not mean you are automatically committed to the other. For example, if you major in English, you might find work in teaching, publishing, and other fields related to the major, but also in business, human-resources, and a number of other occupations. In other words, choosing a major does not limit you to one occupation or career. Search What Can I Do with This Major?
- Choosing a major will determine what I do for the rest of my life: Your undergraduate major may lead to a specific job but will not determine what you do over the next forty-plus years. Within 10 years after graduation, many people are working in areas that have no direct connection to their undergraduate majors. Job obsolescence, emerging job opportunities, and the need for new life challenges are among the reasons that people change jobs and even careers.
- Choosing a major means giving up other areas of study: Not necessarily. You can combine your academic interests in a number of ways, which include a second major, a self-designed inter-disciplinary major, one or more minors, and a graduate degree in an area unrelated to your undergraduate major.
- Deciding on a major means first deciding on a career: Many students first choose a major, a subject area that interests and motivates them, and then later decide on a career compatible with their interests, skills, and values. Remember, with the exception of several majors, such as nursing and engineering, many occupations do not require a specific course of study.
- Employers are looking to fill positions with graduates who have specific majors: Employers readily acknowledge that the disciplinary knowledge (i.e., related to a specific major) learned in college contributes to workplace success. Employers also acknowledge the importance of acquired or on-job knowledge and cross-cutting skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, written and oral communication, and decision-making that will serve employees in multiple work contexts. In other words, for many employers, the skills students develop at college and through experience are as important, at times more important, as the knowledge gained in an undergraduate major.
- Changing my major will prevent me from graduating in four years: Students can still graduate in four years if they have completed, at the end of their 4th or even 5th semester, most of their basic requirements and at least one or two courses that would count toward the new major. If necessary, students might take an extra course in a semester or summer courses to achieve their four-year graduation goal.
- I should rely on input from parents and other before I decide on a major and a career: Well, yes and no. Gathering information from others, including your parents, can help you to process your thoughts, gain perspective, and make a purposeful decision about your major and career. Too often, however, students accept the choices of their parents as their own and decide, at least initially, on a major and career that do not reflect their own values, interests, and goals.
For many students, the process of deciding on a major occurs over an extended period of time, often through trial and error, and it often requires multiple conversations with your advisor, professors, family, and friends as well as ongoing self-reflection. Thinking about your responses to some of the questions listed below will help you to better assess if you have gathered enough information about the major and “tested” your interest to determine if this path of study is right for you.
How did you become interested in this major?
- What high school courses interested you the most?
- What have you done to determine if this major is right for you?
- Do you see a meaningful or “logical” connection between your choice of major and the time you spend outside of class (in high school) devoted to activities or experiences related to your current path of study?
- Have you attended campus or departmental lectures or presentations about topics related to your course of study or possible career path?
- To what degree have family members, friends, teachers, or others encouraged you to pursue this major?
- Have you taken more than one (introductory) course in the major?
What “evidence” do you have that you will be successful in this major?
- How did your coursework in high school prepare you for this major?
- What skill sets do you need to be successful in the major?
- Are you enjoying the coursework in this academic path?
- Have high school teachers or college professors encouraged you to pursue this area of study?
- What grades have you earned in introductory or 100- and 200-level major courses?
- Have you required additional academic support from instructors, tutors, or peers to earn satisfactory grades in 100- and 200-level major courses?
- How are you doing (i.e., grades) in your major classes compared to other classes?
- Are you making satisfactory academic progress in the major?
What are your career interests and goals and professional values?
- What have you done to learn more about potential career opportunities associated with this major?
- Are you aware that choosing a major is not the same thing as choosing a career, and that a major in humanities, the arts, or social sciences can lead to jobs in research, business, and other professions?
- Do you have any work or volunteer experience in areas related to your career interests?
- What factors, criteria, or considerations have motivated you to work in this profession?
- Have you selected the career primarily because of job opportunities, social prestige, or salary?
- Have you talked to or “shadowed” someone in your field of interest?
- Have you learned about specific and "hidden" job responsibilities, the characteristics of workplace culture, and if your personality and preferred working conditions (e.g., working independently or with a team) match with what you would do on a daily basis?
What have you done to learn about, or “test” your interest in, this major?
- Have you talked to anyone in Career Services about your major and career interests and goals?
- Have you talked to your advisor or to a professor in the _______ Department about this major?
- Have you talked to upper-class students who have declared their majors?
- What research, work, and internships opportunities are available to majors?
- Have you learned the academic requirements for this major?
- Are you aware of departmental or major pre-requisites, program admission requirements, course sequences, writing-option courses, and other curriculum information and requirements?
- Do you know what the average GPA is for majors in your program of study?
- Are you aware of the GPA required for graduate programs in this area?
How committed are you to this major?
- Would you describe your commitment to this major as “firm,” “leaning toward,” or “considering?”
- Are there any required courses for this major you might find challenging?
- Would you be willing to take an overload of courses one or two semesters, take summer courses, retake one or more courses, and/or spend one or more additional semesters at school to complete this major?
- What criteria or circumstances would convince you that your course of study might not be the most suitable major?
- What is your current GPA in your major, and what are your target and ideal GPA goals?
- Would you be content with a GPA of 2.50 or lower in your major course of study?
- How long would you continue on this major track if your grades do not match your target or ideal GPA goals?
- How upsetting would it be to switch to another major, particularly one that might be a significant departure from your original choice (e. g., Biochemistry to History, English, or Education)?
- If academic challenges presented you from pursuing this major, would you see this as a personal failure or as a typical scenario experienced by many college students?
Do you have a parallel or an alternative major in mind?
- Are there additional areas of study/courses you are interested in or would like to explore?
- In what courses (i.e., non-major courses) have you been most successful?
Below is list of 10 actions steps you may need to take to succeed (i.e., earn a grade of B or higher) in this major course. Write either “true” or “false” next to each of the statements. Your degree of success will likely be correlated with the more “true” statements you identify. Taking these action steps may also help you to determine whether this major is a good match for you.
- I will prepare for each class throughout the semester—e.g., complete homework problems or assigned reading. T or F
- I will within 48 hours after each class rewrite lecture notes, review or rework problems discussed in class, or complete other kinds of post-class follow-up that will help to reinforce course material and prepare me for the next quiz or test. T or F
- I will learn the relevant concepts or foundational knowledge so I have the background to understand the material in other major courses, particular sequenced courses. T or F
- I will go to office hours or tutoring—early in the semester and on a regular basis if necessary—if I am having problems with homework or understanding course material presented or discussed in lectures or labs. Tor F
- I will review all of the homework assignments or problems before a test or quiz. T or F
- I will spend a minimum of six to eight hours a week throughout the semester reading course material, working problems, completing other assignments, or studying for quizzes and exams. T or F
- I will meet with my professor to discuss papers, exams, and quizzes if I receive grades of C- or lower. T or F
- I will study multiple hours over several days to prepare for exams or to complete course projects. T or F
- I will develop a study schedule and plan to help me manage time and to reinforce good study practices. T or F
For students to make an informed, thoughtful, and realistic decision about a course of study, they should learn more about their values, interests, personality, and skills—their VIPS—and use the available resources offered on the Career Services Website.
Meet with a Career Services advisor to complete an online assessment:
- FOCUS II—a major and career exploration inventory
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)—a personality type inventory that must be interpreted by a licensed professional
- Campbell Interest & Skill Survey (CISS)—an inventory that measures work-related interests and skills.
Use the following online tools to search for information about majors and careers
- Search by Major—to find related career fields and internships and job links
- What Can I Do with This Major?—for in-depth information on major and relevant career fields
- Occupational Outlook Handbook—for information on hundreds of job titles
- Spotlight on Careers—for information on a variety of career fields and links to jobs and internships
Gain practical experience and learn about jobs and careers. Career Services offers Externships (short, 1-to-5-day job shadowing with alumni), Career Treks (company/organization visits), and assistance with finding volunteer opportunities. In addition, through participation in clubs and organizations, students often gain transferable skills that help direct them towards their future career paths.
Many student change to a new major, for a variety of reasons, at least one time during their four years at Ohio Wesleyan. This is typical for college students across the country. To anticipate that you might choose an alternative major—or perhaps decide to double major—you might develop a parallel plan that will allow you to choose from two academic paths or follow them both. (Approximately 25% of Ohio Wesleyan Students graduate with two majors!) As part of you plan, you might consider
- Identifying a second area of study, possibly one that is somewhat or significantly different from your primary or intended major—e.g., Botany and Journalism.
- Exploring both major options in your first and second years by taking two or more courses in each subject area.
- Learning more about each major, including specific requirements for each—see section (above) “Learning about One or More OWU Majors and Specific Major Requirements.”
- Evaluating the merits of each major based on requirements, course performance (i.e., grades), career options, and other information to determine if one path of study might be a preferred option.
- Determining what steps you need to take to improve your grades and be more competitive in your primary major.
- Acknowledging in a timely way that you should concentrate on your second or parallel major. See (below) “Recognizing When You Should Consider Another Major.”
- Declare at least one major by the time you earn 15 units of credit.
Though students should not feel pressured to select a course of study before they are ready to make an informed decision, there are several good reasons for why they should declare their majors—sooner rather than later. These reasons include
- Developing more meaningful relationships with faculty mentors.
- Feeling more connected to the university and its academic culture.
- Participating in or attending department-sponsored events and activities.
- Learning more about internships and research opportunities.
- Feeling more intellectually engaged and having a greater commitment to learning.
- Developing a network of friends who share the same interest or passion for a specific course of study.
- Earning a higher GPA (than undecided students).
If you are uncertain whether a chosen or possible major is the right one for—that’s okay—the key is to recognize, as soon as possible, if you should consider an alternative course of study. Reflecting on the statements listed below will help you to make this difficult decision in a timely way.
- You have difficulty understanding course content—e.g., lectures and reading—in a major course in the first or second week of the semester.
- You are doing poorly in a required introductory course for your major even though you have attended all the classes, completed all the homework, kept up with the reading assignments, and devoted many hours to studying for quizzes and tests.
- You continue to do poorly in the course after receiving academic support (e.g., meeting with the professor, working with a student tutor, and/or participating in a study group).
- You receive a grade of “C-“ or below in the first of a two-course sequence (e.g., CHEM, PHYS, or MATH 110 and 111).
- You retake a required major course (after getting a “D+“ in that course in a previous semester) and earn another sub-par grade (i.e., “C-“ or lower) from a different instructor.
- You are earning better grades in non-major courses than in major courses.
- Your advisor and instructors have gently or strongly urged you to consider another course of study.
- You lack motivation to succeed in your major courses—e.g., you do the minimum amount of work and seldom participate in class discussions.
- You feel uncomfortable or inadequate participating in educational activities or processes central to the major—e.g., laboratory work in science courses or peer critiques in fine arts or creative writing courses.
- Your current GPA in your major courses would be lower than the required GPA for graduate or professional schools.
The process of changing to a new major often includes at least one crucial conversation with one or more family members. The guidelines below will help you to prepare for and manage this crucial conversation in a pro-active way.
Preparing for your crucial conversation
Do your “homework” prior to the meeting:
- Anticipate questions you will likely be asked
- Gather information—e.g., learn about career opportunities related to the major
- Consider how each family might respond during this crucial conversation
- Determine the role your family members will play or the input they should have in this decision-making process.
- Generate an outline of crucial conversation discussion points (below)
- Schedule a time to talk, preferably in person, not over the phone, and don’t introduce the topic at an inopportune time—e. g., when a parent just returns home from work.
Identifying crucial conversation discussion points
- Note that changing majors is common among first- and second-year students.
- Explain why your first major was not the appropriate academic track for you.
- Explain why the new major is a better match for your interests, skills, and abilities.
- Describe how you made this choice (informed decision)—e.g., talking to your advisor, taking two course in the new major, or completing the Myers Briggs personality test.
- Identify career possibilities related to the new major.
- Inform family member about future plans and opportunities related to the major—e.g., research or internship experiences.
- Describe what additional actions you might take before committing more firmly to this course of study and officially declaring your major.
- Propose a course of action if family members continue to express reservations or concerns—e.g., provide family member with information about the major or employment opportunities.
Managing your crucial conversation
- Remember that your family members have good intentions and want you to be successful and content with your choice of major.
- Stay focused on your conversational plan and outline.
- Be respectively receptive to questions and concerns but firm and confident about your decisions, goals, and plans.
- Convey, through organization and presentation, that you have made a thoughtful and informed decision, not an impulsive one.
- Remain positive and enthusiastic throughout the discussion even if others become emotional, show their disapproval, or seem resistant to your new choice of major
- Suggest that the discussion be continued at another time if family members remain uncompromising about what they believe to be the best course of study for you.