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Choosing a Major

Choosing a major is a big deal. But choosing a major is not choosing a life. Your choice of major does not necessarily determine your career. No matter which major you decide to pursue, the broad liberal arts skills that you develop here at William & Mary are valued by employers in every field. Still, it is a complex decision that involves your values, preferences, and vision for the future. Using a systematic decision-making process can help clarify your thinking.

Even though this process is presented as a series of steps, decision-making is a nonlinear process. Expect to move back and forth between and within different steps, or to work on several steps simultaneously.

  1. Learn about yourself through self assessment. 

    • Clarify your values. What's important to you? How do you want to live your life? What does your ideal future look like?
    • Conversations with faculty, professionals, friends, and family can give you a perspective on what others consider to be your strengths, and may point to opportunities you had not considered.
    • The Career and Counseling Centers have formal assessment tools and programs that can help you move forward.
    • Self-assessment can also be done through reflection and journaling.
  2. Investigate potential majors. 
    • Take a wide range of courses in as many departments as possible. You'll get a better sense of what you like (and not so much) and how you relate to the different academic disciplines.
    • Keep an open mind in all of your classes. You never know when a requirement can become a passion.
    • Talk with junior or senior students who have completed a semester or two of major coursework. What's it like being a major in that department or program?
    • Meet with your pre-major advisor. She or he will have worked with you long enough to have some insights.
    • Get in touch with the  advising contact for the department(s) you are considering. 
    • Attend an event during majors week (held after winter break – watch our calendar). Most departments and programs hold information sessions or offer extended office hours for prospective majors.
  3. Research careers. 
    • Talk to faculty in the department(s) you are considering. Ask them if they know anyone in the career you're thinking about, or ask what they know about job and career opportunities in the field.
    • Career Center Advisors and Academic Advisors have insights into matching majors to careers. The research librarians at Swem can introduce you to other materials that discuss career information.
    • Pre-professional advisors can help orient you to what it would take to work in specific professions.
    • Reach out to alumni who have your dream job or who work with other people who do. What majors did they have? 
    • Attend Employer Information Sessions: opportunities for you to talk to employers and find out about the kinds of majors they've hired in the past.
    • Play around with William & Mary Student Outcomes. This site provides information obtained from senior surveys for the past four years.
    • What kind of career supports your vision of the life you want to lead?
    • Participate in research in a subject area you are interested in studying, or get work or volunteer experience in a field that interests you. There's nothing like some real-world experience.
  4. Eliminate options.
    • Ideally you'll reach a point where just one or two potential majors feel like a good fit. 
    • If you find that you cannot choose between two majors, could one be a major and the other a minor?
    • If you find that the topic you want to study overlaps several majors, look into creating your own interdisciplinary major.
  5. Establish an action plan. 
    • Print out an academic planner [pdf] and use it to scketch out what your next few semesters would look like if you went ahead with this major.
    • What would be your next steps after graduation?
  6. Review your decision.
    • Take a good, hard look at your academic planner. Is this how you want to spend the next couple of years?
    • Think about that ideal future again. Does this track set you on the path toward that future?