ON THIS PAGE:
Common Myths about Choosing a Major
Where Do I Begin?
Knowing the Options
Exploring the Options
Additional Ways to Explore Majors and Careers
Resources: "What Can I Do With This Major?"
How a Career Coach Can Help
Think of deciding on your major or career as a process that unfolds over time, with many small decisions and steps along the way. The good news is that if you haven't arrived at what major or career you want it usually means that you just don't have enough information. The more knowledge you have the better your decisions will be. The first thing is NOT to panic! As you gather more information, you will find yourself more focused and your decision-making will become easier. This section will help you as you move through the process of exploring majors and careers.
Let's start by taking a look at six common myths about choosing a major. Caution: The following myths may impede your decision-making!
Myth #1: An academic major ties you to a specific career path
Reality: Majors such as teaching and nursing are directly related to career options, but most majors are not. In reality most employers are looking for certain qualities and skills in potential employees rather than specific subject knowledge. These include general transferable skills such as problem solving, written and oral communication, critical thinking, interpersonal communication, team-building, and sensitivity to others. Careers are rapidly changing so it's critical that you have these general skills in order to be able to adapt to challenges of the future. Any Simmons major will prepare you well for these skills.
Myth #2: Humanities, arts, or social science majors are not really qualified for many jobs or only in their specific area
Reality: If you are a liberal arts major, the scope of the careers that you can work in is broad, including business, research, human resources, teaching, and medicine, and countless more. A liberal arts major can also prepare you for many graduate or professional schools. Medical and law schools respond favorably to applicants who have the well-rounded education that liberal arts majors obtain. While developing the important core transferable skills during your undergraduate years, you can also think about what specific skills you may want to develop for professional careers that may be of interest to you.
Myth #3: The best way to find out about a major is to take a class in it
Reality: Not always true. Since many introductory classes are survey courses and atypical of upper-level course offerings in the subject, you don't necessarily get a real sense of the area as a whole. Instead of judging a major by introductory courses, consider exploring a major by talking to upper class students, meeting with your professors, researching web resources, or attending an information session, employer site visit, or other event.
Myth #4: It is better to declare a major than be "undecided"
Reality: Being "undecided" about your major (a preferable term is "undeclared") and exploring various options can actually be very beneficial. It places you in the position to explore, investigate, and expand your general knowledge as you plan for your future. It's the time for you to brainstorm and dream of all the possibilities that are available to you and exploring a variety of academic programs makes it more likely that you will find the major that best works for you. Be sure to use both your academic advisor and a CEC career coach to discuss your research and plan for your future.
Myth #5: The major you select will determine your lifelong career
Reality: Not true. Not all, but many graduates tend to start out in fields at least somewhat related to their major. However, not many years down the road it's highly likely that most will be working in fields not directly related to their undergraduate majors. In today's workforce, employees change employers and careers several times in a professional lifetime. It's unlikely that the major you choose will dictate your career or narrow your career choices in the future.
Myth #6: I'll just take all of my General Education Requirements right away
Reality: General Education Requirements encompass a variety of fields and disciplines. However, not every general education requirement is applicable toward a possible major. See your academic advisor for assistance in selecting appropriate courses.
The CEC recommends the STEPS Career Development Plan as a useful guide for undergraduates as they journey down their career path. It's all about discovering what you love to do and where and how you can be successful! Before you begin your research and exploration, however, it is important to really know yourself. After all, if you don't know who you are, how can you know what major or career path is a good fit for you?
Step 1 in the career development process is Assessment, developing an understanding of who you are as the starting point in the process of choosing a major or a career direction. Self-assessment is a process that leads you to discover or clarify your Values, Interests, Personality and Skills (aka, VIPS). Having a clear idea of what you value in your life and work, your interests, your personality style, and your skills will begin to help you narrow down the broad array of options open to you.
Step 2 in the process is Exploration. Once you know your "VIPS," it's time to research and explore the multitude of career options that exist. While it's not unusual for students to be aware of only a limited number of professional roles, there are actually thousands! But how should one go about this exploration process?
As a start, you need to be aware of what options are open to you for academic majors. The best place to start is to familiarize yourself with the list of majors, found here on the Undergraduate Majors, Minors, and Programs page. Be sure you spend time clicking through the links to those majors that interest you to visit the academic departments and their respective program pages. You will want to learn about the programs, their courses, and other requirements and see what they have to offer. As you do this, think about which majors you are attracted to, which ones would hold your interest, and which ones you feel might be a good match with your academic strengths and interests.
Some Simmons undergrads choose more than one program, known as a double major, while others choose to add a minor in another area of interest. Be aware that each of these decisions will add to your academic workload.
One of the best ways to start researching potential majors or careers is to speak with people you know, and with people who they know -- in other words, networking. Hearing firsthand about others' professional experiences is very helpful in clarifying potential options for you.
A key technique used in networking is informational interviewing. It is one of the most effective approaches to exploring and learning more about different majors and careers. You build professional contacts with people who are already working in the fields you are curious about. An informational interview is a 20 to 30 minute meeting with a person who can give you AIR: Advice, Information and Referrals. But it is NOT a time to ask for a job!
As you learned when reading the "Common Myths," above, majors and careers are not necessarily linked. Although teaching, nursing, accounting and some other pre-professional majors tend to lead straight to jobs in those fields, liberal arts majors often end up in very diverse professions. This is where talking to people who have "been there, done that" can really help as you work through this decision process.
Speak to faculty and students in majors that interest you. Ask them questions such as the following:
- How did you choose this major? What do you like best about it? What other majors did you consider?
- What personal traits, strengths or talents are necessary for success in this major?
- Does Simmons have any clubs or honor societies for students in this major? May I attend a meeting if I'm not a major just to learn more?
- What internships or study abroad opportunities are available for students in this major?
- What career options are available to students in this major?
- What careers have Simmons alumnae in this major chosen?
- Do people in this major often go on to graduate or professional school? What advantages does this give them?
While informational interviewing is a highly effective primary research tool whether you are exploring potential majors or careers, there are of course many other tools at your disposal to research the options out there. Here are a few more recommended approaches and techniques:
- Do Internships, Part-time, or Summer Jobs - By pursuing different work opportunities you will have the chance to try something new, experience a work environment that you are interested in, and possibly spark an interest in that field.
- Join Student Organizations - By joining student organizations at Simmons and getting involved in extracurricular activities you will gain exposure to other students with similar interests. You learn more about these areas as they relate to majors and careers -- for example, writing for The Simmons Voice is a great to see if you might be interested in a journalism career or writing professionally. You can also learn more about majors from your fellow students in the organization, many of whom may be upperclassmen.
- Volunteer - Whether through the Scott/Ross Center or any of myriad other organizations both on- and off-campus, you can contribute to a good cause and have the opportunity to meet professionals in roles you are exploring. You also learn more about yourself and your interests along the way.
- Attend Career Fairs and Other Employer Events - Use employer visits to campus as an opportunity to speak with recruiters about various job roles and industries, your interests, and what you have to offer. The CEC connects Simmons students with numerous off-campus employer events as well. See the CEC Events page for the calendar of upcoming events. If you attend a career fair, be sure to review the CEC's tips on how to Prepare for a Career Fair. For additional information visit the Library's career guide information on career fairs.
- Shadow a Professional - Through your networking you might be able to "shadow" (ie, follow) a professional for a day or two to observe what it's like working in that industry and role. Hold an informational interview with them first. Use your network to identify and contact professionals in areas of interest to you.
- Join a Professional Association - If you join a professional association in an area of potential interest you can attend meetings and events and learn about careers and meet professionals with whom you might set up informational interviews. Many associations have special student membership fees. Check out the Library's guide here.
- Meet Simmons Alumnae/i - You can do this at many different campus events. Seniors can register for Alumnet, an active, Simmons-maintained online database of over 8,000 Simmons alumnae/i. Any Simmons student who is a member of LinkedIn can join the Simmons LinkedIn group to connect with alumnae/i in your field of interest -- or any other field! The group numbers over 2,000 members and is constantly growing.
- Broadcast Yourself - Tell everyone you meet what it is you are exploring. You never know who may know a good information source or resource person!
The resources at your disposal as you explore majors and careers are almost endless. Here are some important ones to consider:
- Simmons Graduate Survey Summary - Review the recent Simmons Graduate Survey Results to get an idea of where recent Simmons alumnae/i are employed, including top industries, employers, and more.
- Beatley Library's Career Guides - the Library carries in-depth online guides on a range of career-related subjects, including Career Exploration and Careers by Discipline. The breadth and depth of resources and links listed in these guides will allow you to explore all potential Simmons majors and related career opportunities.
- What Can I do With this Major? - this online resource provides detailed employment information for over 75 different majors, including potential areas of employment, types of employers and occupations, and strategies to pursue and obtain those jobs.
In addition to these resources on the Simmons website, some other popular career and major exploration sites include the following:
- Quintessential Careers - read the article "Choosing a College Major: How to Chart Your Ideal Path" for step by step guidance.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook - Published by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the OOH is considered the source of occupational information. You'll find a plethora of information about nearly 1,000 occupations, including the nature of the work, working conditions, training and educational requirements, career advancement, job outlook over the next ten years, earnings potential, and more.
- O*NET - Also created and maintained for the U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET provides comprehensive information about thousands of professions, with detailed descriptions of job responsibilities, required skills, preferred interests, general work styles and environments, and more.
- Massachusetts Career Information System (MASSCIS) - The Massachusetts Division of Career Services' MassCIS system provides occupational and educational information to help individuals make better-informed career and school choices. There are also several assessment tools. Login required but it is free.
Remember, if you're still deciding on a major or a career direction, working with a career coach can always help you to:
- Understand how the career decision-making process works
- Assess your values, interests, personality preferences and skills (VIPS)
- Learn about different majors and careers
- Explore your options
- Identify and guide you to additional helpful resources
Contact the CEC to set up an appointment with a career coach. We're here to help!
Check out the STEPS Career Development Plan
To learn more about the STEPS Career Development Plan based on the 5 Step Model and developed specifically for Simmons undergraduate students, visit the STEPS Plan page.
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Meet with a Career Coach
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Jul 26, 2014 at 8:00am at New York, New York