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    Is It a Major Decision?

    How important is it to have a major in mind during your college search?

    Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson

    Consider two very different students: When Kate registered for her sophomore year at college, she wrote "undecided" in the blank space labeled "major." She chose her college for other reasons—she figured she would find a major along the way.

    Then there's Rachel. When she received her degree in education last spring, she finished what she had started her freshman year. Her dream to become a teacher was very much a part of her college choice. She stuck with it and is now hoping to land a teaching job.

    Whether you're sure about what you want to do with the rest of your life, like Rachel, or you're still exploring your options, like Kate, it's important to understand a few things about college majors and your college choice.

    So, What's a Major?

    If you skip the stuff about military rank, you'll discover that your dictionary may define "major" this way: "A field of study chosen as an academic specialty." Putting it simply, it's the stuff you study at college that prepares you for a job after college.

    One education magazine says a major is sort of like a "contract" between you and the college. By signing on for a major, you agree to absorb a whole lot of knowledge and to produce a truckload of work in exchange for a degree of distinction. Your major "contract" is not like a cell-phone contract—you can cancel at any time. But there are consequences for waiting too long to honor this "contract."

    If, for instance, you're in your senior year of college with no major in sight, you'll either not graduate on time or you'll simply not be prepared for any specific job.

    Undecided? Don't Sweat It!

    Admissions counselors will tell you that majors aren't really that important until the end of your sophomore year. At this time in your college career you'll transition from required general education courses to specialized courses that make up your main area of study. Going into your junior year, most of the slots in your schedule should be filled with courses in your specific area of interest, or "major." Until then, say admissions counselors, don't get too worked up over "major choices."

    So, if you're one of those "undecideds," don't sweat it. Most first-year college students are uncertain about a major. Studies also show that 75 percent of college students change their majors at least once over the course of four years.

    Consider, for example, the student who came to college convinced he was going to major in pre-dentistry. Just for fun, he joined the jazz band—and realized music was his real passion. This experience then led him to take a couple of management courses that focused on the arts. The would-be dentist soon found himself falling in love with those courses. He ended up spending his last years studying arts management. If you major in music, this guy just may become your manager someday!

    And the Point Is …

    Actually, there are a couple of important points tucked into this little true story about the near-dentist who wandered into the jazz department. When you research a college, when you visit a campus, don't forget to look into the school's out-of-the classroom activities. You never know what career might result from a fun, extracurricular activity.

    And the second point is specifically for students who are pretty sure about what they want to major in. When you visit campuses, be sure to attend classes and talk to professors in your major of choice. Doing so will give you an idea of what the major is all about. As you talk to profs, ask yourself: Am I interested in what they're saying? Then when you visit classes, ask yourself: Am I excited or bored to death? Doing so could keep you from wasting time (and cash) in an area of study you'd end up hating.

    My mom thought I'd adjust to nursing classes just like she did. I wasn't so sure.