As a naive 18 year old, college freshman, I thought I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and I thought I knew how to get there. Actually, let’s be honest, I thought I knew everything. Entering my senior year, I am very far from where I thought I would be, but I am very happy with (most) of the choices I have made. Three years ago I would’ve told you that I would be a political science/ econ double major headed off to Law School in one year’s time. Now, NONE of that is true. I still have hopes to go to law school, but I will be graduating next May with a degree in computer science and a minor in philosophy–a complete 180 from where I thought I would be and let me tell you…it’s Okay. So here is a list of ten things I have have learned or wished I asked when it came to picking my major.
1. Do you like the classes?- This is the obvious one and the one you’ve most likely heard before from every adviser and upperclassmen you’ve talked to. Despite how often this advice is given out, I’m still surprised at how many people are taking classes they don’t enjoy just because they “want” to be a certain major.
2. Do you like the people in the classes? – This is something that I wish I had taken into account a little bit more before choosing my major. Would I have chosen a different major- who knows? At least at my University and in my major, you have to work in groups on many projects. Maybe this is a just a small-liberal-arts-computer-science-major problem, but I have had classes that I had to work in small groups or with a partner and it didn’t go over so well.
3. Talk to people who have a degree in the field you are thinking about – Often times people don’t realize what a job for someone in their major really looks like. I was hesitant to go after computer science at first because I knew I didn’t want to be sitting at a cubicle programming a computer game for the rest of my life. A little talking to my adviser and some graduates helped reassure me that there were many more options than what I was picturing.
4. What is the student lounge(study area) like- Okay hear me out on this one…At first, when I saw the computer science lounge I thought it was great. It has couches, a whiteboard, tons of books and magazines related to computer science and even a fridge (small liberal arts college-okay?). It wasn’t until my junior year when I had to pull an all nighter with my chemistry major friend that I realized how inefficient the space was. While the chem lounge seemed boring and dull, it was a much more tailored to studying. Grated there was no fridge with leftover pizza, but there were multiple tables, a whole wall of whiteboards and comfortable chairs at the table and sometimes you have to make sacrifices.
5. What support system is in place- This could be anything from tutors available, to clubs related to that major. Not only have I met some of my best friends in computer science clubs, but also people who are available to help me when I inevitably run into a bug at 1 am the night before my code is due.
6. The professors- If you haven’t heard a rant about an awful, unfair professor, you will. Quite frankly, there are just some departments that are better than others. You will have to take many classes in your major, and if 7/15 professors are notoriously unfair graders, your GPA just became a game of Russian roulette. Conversely, if many of the professors are known for having helpful office hours and engaging classes, then you’re not only more likely to go to class, but you’re more likely to enjoy it.
7. The internships and study abroad opportunities available- It is generally accepted that there are more internships available to computer science majors than there are to art history majors. It’s just a fact of life. This does not mean that you can’t get a slam dunk internship just because you’re an art history major or that you can’t get a terrible, useless internship as an computer science major, it just means the art history major might have to work a little harder. Same thing goes for study abroad. A lot of times certain majors will have a hard time finding classes that align with their curriculum abroad (I’m looking at you biochem), so if you really want to study abroad, it is best to check in with your adviser before you sign the papers.
8. Requirements outside of regular classes – I realize this can vary from school to school but it is definitely worth checking out. For example, as a computer science major I have to complete a senior project(picture an app), virtually by myself in order to receive my degree. My roommate, who is a econ major has to take comps, which is a huge test over basically everything in the econ department. My other roommate is a biochem major and in addition to her comps, she has to attend a certain number of lectures her junior and senior year.
9. Relevant grad school or professional school- If you want to go to med school, you don’t have to be a hard science major but you have to take so many prerequisite classes that you might as well be. Law school on the other hand attracts a wide range of majors. It is also worth finding out if most people in your field go on to grad school. If you absolutely cannot picture yourself going to school for another 4 or 5 years, but everyone applying to entry-level job in your field has PhD’s I have bad news for you.
10. Consider salary, but don’t make it everything- Yes, there are some econ majors that end up killin’ it and are rolling in cash by the time they are 27. There are also some econ majors that have to move back in with their parents. The same thing goes for every major. Yes, few computer science majors will go on to work at Google or Facebook but some will work (often by choice) at start ups that could fail- taking the paycheck with it. The point is that salary is a guessing game of averages at best and the “average starting salary” could be way off from reality. So take it into consideration, but don’t struggle through classes you hate just for that big ticket job, because even if you end up with it, do you really want to spend 40+ hours a week reliving the classes you couldn’t stand 12 hours a week?–probably not.
11. It’s not permanent until you graduate- If you were reading this and you developed an alarming sweat that you were in the wrong field, have no fear! You can always (almost) change your major. It may mean you have to take classes over the summer or stay an extra semester depending on how far along you are, but if it’s really something you want to do, most of the time advisers and professors are willing to work with you because in the end they really just want to see you succeed.
Maybe only half or being more realistic-only a few of these apply to you (remember, small liberal arts school!). But if this helps one lost freshie, then I’ll take it. Or maybe you’re like me and you think you know everything the day you walk into your freshmen dorm. That works too.