Choosing a Major 101

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When we think about choosing a major in college as incoming freshmen, our parents and advisors are always telling us not to stress, that we can change our major whenever we want, and nothing is set in stone. However, I’ve found that this somewhat lazy approach to collegiate academics can often lead to what I like to call a mid-collegiate crisis. I had this a few months ago, and it was only when I found myself obsessively online shopping during my econ lecture when I thought “hmm...I might not be interested in econ after all.” Not only does your major give you an idea of potential future careers and graduate school after college, but it also means devoting several years of your life to essentially one area of focus. While you can change majors, don’t take the decision lightly or put it off too long.

You might be thinking, “I have no idea what I want to major in! This is just making me more stressed!” Believe me, I’ve been there, as recently as last semester. Now a sophomore, I just switched my intended major from economics to psychology, two wildly different areas of study, having taken very few prerequisites for psych. If I’d chosen to change my major any later than I did, I would have already dug myself too deep in economics prerequisites to make up for the courses I’d need to take on a new major. This is why you DON’T have all the time in the world. Yep, that’s right; be stressed, because we don’t have enough of that in college.

Why did I change? I dreaded going to my econ lectures and doing problem sets every week. I couldn’t care less about the material, and even though I probably could have done well in the major, I realized I’d only picked it because of potential careers in business that would yield high salaries and a secure future. This should NOT what your sole focus when deciding what to major in. While thinking about your future is always important in the long run, you need to actually enjoy what you’re studying, what you’re spending hours learning in class every day. That said, there are many other conflicting factors that might not make this possible, like financial situations, disabilities, etc. I’m just saying, try your best to find a topic that you’re engaged in and can handle. Your college years can be intellectually stimulating and fun despite the copious amounts of stress Berkeley students meme about.

Now, with a schedule full of psychology prerequisites including an intro class, I have noticed how much happier I am every day (genuinely!). I notice psych in other areas of my life that I didn’t recognize before. I love Criminal Minds, a show based on psychological profiling, and often find myself googling some of the disorders and topics discussed on the show. Every time little things in my life tie into things I learned in class, I get so excited!

I’d like to clarify; I’m not saying that some majors are better than others. It’s about what’s best for you. If it sounds like something you want to spend your time learning about because you’re interested in it, go for it! While one major might sound tempting because of potential future wealth or success, you should make sure you’re looking forward to going to class (at least some of the time) and interested in what you’re learning while also keeping your future in mind. Berkeley students are rigged for success anyway, so hopefully you can still seek that prosperous future while studying something that interests you.

Now, for the best part: how do you find that subject you’re interested in? I had an advisor meeting and walked out confused as hell, as she’d introduced new majors I’d never even thought about. It can be more complicated than it should be to identify what major suits you, so I thought I’d share some steps I took besides talking with an advisor (which can often help) that helped me narrow down my many, many interests when I decided to drop economics.

1.    Take a range of classes! Freshmen, I’m looking at you. While you still have time to shop around, take intro classes for subjects you might be interested in. You have all four years to finish the seven-course-breadth, so don’t take all breadth classes right away; see what else is out there. Some intro classes often satisfy these breadths, a perfect way to get a taste of different subjects while getting those requirements under your belt. You also might be able to sit in on classes if your schedule is full, just contact the professor. Are you sitting there on your phone, or are you actually hearing what the professor is saying? ;)

2.    Talk to your friends! If you’re friends with people who seem dead set on a certain major, ask them what they like about it. Ask them about their classes, their interests, and their potential career ideas. You can also ask older students you might know from clubs or community groups!

3.    Talk to adults. And I don’t just mean an academic advisor, because we all know how vague those meetings can be and how hard it is to even schedule one! Sometimes inspiration can come from the most random places: your parents or your teachers for example. They’ve likely been through it too and can have some great insight.

4.    Read online articles and class descriptions! There are endless articles detailing why you should major in certain subjects, as well as descriptions of every class at Berkeley on guide.berkeley.edu. If any class or topic sounds interesting to you, do more research! Crack the whip; choosing your major does not have to be a passive process. Here are some helpful articles from Princeton Review, Zety, and US News.

5.    Recognize what you’re drawn to in your free time. Do you find yourself reading The Economist? Are you always having heated political debates with your friends? Are you the problem-solver of your group? Writing and reading at the speed of light? Looking at traits you already have and things you spend your free time discussing or reading about is often underestimated. If you already are interested in something, you’d probably rather spend four years of your life on that subject rather than one you could care less about.

6.    Make use of major advisors and workshops. This is number five on the list for a reason. I found advisors helpful, but it was a much more independent search to find what I was interested in in the end. While general college advisors can be helpful, I find that major advisors have a lot more specific insight into the majors rather than a broad overview. If you’re interested in five different majors, make an advisor appointment with each department. Berkeley’s L&S advising office also offer diverse workshops focused on choosing a major; visit https://ls.berkeley.edu/advising/tools-forms/advising-calendar to see the advising calendar.

Finding your major doesn’t have to be an added stress on top of your hectic life at Berkeley. It can be fun to discover what you’re passionate about! Additionally, this doesn’t just apply to Berkeley—follow any of these tips at any school and you might find what you’re looking for.

These four years of your life don’t have to be extremely grueling and stressful if you don’t want them to be, you always have graduate school for that ;). Also remember that there are so many majors you can take in any direction career-wise. You’re not going to look back on your college experience by remembering the nights you spent cramming information you didn’t care about into your brain, you’re going to remember that one professor you loved, the time you spent out with friends, and the class projects and papers you were so passionate about they still hover in the back of your mind.

Evelyn Taylor