Cal Parents - How to help your student with choosing a major
- Shouldn’t students know what they want to study when they enter college so they don’t fall behind their classmates?
Some students come to Cal knowing where they want to focus their studies, but many do not! We expect that most who come in as freshmen will take the first few semesters to explore possible majors before choosing one; in fact, it’s common for students to change their minds about majors and careers several times before graduation. And while a spirit of competition motivates some students, for many others it’s more productive to focus on their own interests and goals rather than feeling pressured to surpass others.
- Does a student’s major limit his or her career options?
The career a student decides to pursue after graduation is not necessarily dictated by his undergraduate major. Some careers will require specific knowledge or skills obtained by taking certain classes. For example, a student wanting to become a CPA will need to complete certain accounting courses. However, with most majors, a student will learn a broad range of skills that can transfer to a wide variety of careers.
- Don’t Arts, Humanities and Social Science majors have limited skills compared with students majoring in Engineering, Physical Sciences or Business? Aren’t they less well-prepared for a career?
Don’t underestimate the value of an L&S degree – students often just need to learn how to market their education! Many employers greatly value a well-rounded Cal liberal arts education, through which students develop critical thinking, analytical and writing skills, to name just a few. We recommend that students choose a major whose subject matter they are eager to learn about; when a student enjoys her major, she is more likely to perform well academically and to convey enthusiasm about her studies to prospective employers and admissions committees. Besides, coursework isn’t the only means to gain skills; it has become increasingly important for students to build their repertoire through extracurricular activities and employment.
- Isn’t it better to double major than to have just one major? Aren’t employers and graduate/professional school representatives more impressed?
It makes sense to double major only if a student is truly engaged with the material of both majors, and the added time commitment doesn’t compromise performance in either discipline. In other words, while some employers and graduate/professional school representatives appreciate a double major, it doesn’t look better to demonstrate adequate performance in two disciplines than to perform really well in just one. Besides, many other factors figure into hiring decisions, including previous work or research experience and relevant skills.
Career Center Resources
We recommend that students choose a major whose subject matter they are eager to learn about rather than focusing on its apparent practicality. The more a student enjoys her major, the better she is likely to perform academically and to convey enthusiasm about her studies to prospective employers and graduate admissions committees.
- Career Counseling Appointments in which counselors can give students one-on-one guidance through the process of deciding on a major and developing effective strategies for presenting a major that is "less familiar" to employers and graduate/professional schools.
- What Can I Do with a Major in...? - Based on our annual Senior Survey of recent graduates, profiles of 78 Cal majors show where recent graduates have found jobs and gone to graduate school, and the range of salaries they are making.
- @cal Career Network - a database of Cal alumni holding a wide variety of UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate degrees who have volunteered to share their career experiences with students and who can answer questions about possible connections between their Cal major at Cal and chosen career.
Ways You Can Help
Encourage your son or daughter to:
- explore a number of different options and make a choice based on enjoyment of course work rather than on what other students are doing or a belief that it will be more practical
- learn about requirements for possible majors by looking through the course catalog, and discussing academic and career interests with academic advisors, faculty, upperclassmen and Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs)
- set up a career counseling appointment at the Career Center. Junior transfer students may feel particularly pressured to choose a major and benefit from meeting with a Career Counselor to make a timely decision
Be receptive to hearing why a major that you are not familiar with or are concerned is not the best choice appeals to your son or daughter.