University College

Choosing a Career and a Major

Deciding on career and a major may not be as simple as some people make it seem. Not everybody knows what they want to study. Sometimes even those who say they do may not be as sure as they think. Students begin the university experience with vast differences in life experience. Each student has had limited exposure to the world of work and therefore may or may not have had a chance to see just what options are out there. Some students have refined decision making approaches while others are still developing these skills. Other students have been so focused during their late adolescence that they have simply left the “major” decision for later.

Regardless of why a student is stuck on this decision it is not uncommon for individuals to struggle when it comes time to declare a major. In the right-hand box are a number of factors that are often part of the “major” decision-making process. Any or all may apply to you and by reviewing them you will get some information that may help you get closer to making that step.

Not all students are able to find the solutions to this dilemma by simply reviewing information on the web. If this applies to you there are a great number of resources available on campus at SUU. Advisors and counselors in the Academic and Career Development Center and the Wellness Center are all available to assist students with this process.

The Career Decisions course (UNIV 1020) is a great opportunity for students to earn two elective credits while participating in activities that support the Major Decision-Making Process.

To start this process for yourself print the Career Decision-Making Portfolio, get in touch with an advisor or counselor, and get on your way.


Factors Involved in Choosing a Major

There are many factors involved in choosing a major and a career.  Understanding each of these factors helps in the decision-making process. 

Am I Choosing a Major or a Career?

Not every life goal or career has a single major that that will lead directly to it. This can make selecting a major more difficult. Read More Below are a few of the common types of goals that do not require a specific major and some ideas that may help.

Law School: There are many options available for this person s/he may consider English or Political Science or any of the many options from the school of business. The key is a successful score on the LSAT and possibly a series of prerequisites. To get a good start on this option one could start with and appointment to see the SUU Pre Law Advisor. It is also a good idea to contact a few potential schools to identify any recommendations they have. Shaping your academic experience to fit a specific program may give you that extra point on your application.

Graduate Program: Many grad programs have "types" of degrees that work well and not necessarily a specific major that is a sure ticket in. This provides a student the opportunity to study something they like and can do well. Faculty and informational interviewing can give a student a great deal of valuable information. As stated above it is also a good idea to contact a few potential schools to identify any recommendations they have. Shaping your academic experience to fit a specific program my give you that extra point on your application.

Health / Medical Professions: Medical School, Dental School, Pharmacy Colleges and many other health care professions require study in specialized schools. These types of schools may or may not require the completion of a bachelors degree. Most, however, require a great deal of prerequisite knowledge. Southern Utah University has advisors identified to help students plan for such experiences. It is also a good idea to contact a few potential schools to identify any recommendations they have. Shaping your academic experience to fit a specific program my give you that extra point on your application.

Stay at home parent: If you plan on being a stay at home parent you have a unique challenge (or luxury depending on your perspective). There is no specific major for “stay at home parent”. What now? Well this is an opportunity to make a decision based on what you like to study or to apply if you do need a back up plan. In this case a student may want to focus on subjects you enjoy and become an expert with that subject. It is likely that if you like something now you will probably enjoy the kind of work that one could find with that degree. In summary, earn a degree, and learn how and where to market it later.

Family business: Some individuals are taking over a family business and are at school to get an education. Some degree options are more congruent than other for this type of life plan. Depending on the type of business it may well be that there is a specific major to support it. For example, a young person who plans on taking over a family owned farm may consider agriculture or agribusiness. It may also be that there is no particular program of study to support a specific plan. In that case the student is in a situation where they get the luxury of simply choosing a major he or she likes. As above it is likely that if you enjoy a subject you will be able to find a way to apply it later in life if you need to.

Understanding the World of Work

Knowing what options are out there may be a valuable tool in making a major decision. Read More If you are focusing on a career as well as an academic major it may be of help to find jobs or career areas that you are interested in and find out what kind of training or area of study would best prepare you to move in that direction.

There are a number of good research options to assist you with exploration of careers. SUU's Career Cafe is a great place to start as they have a library, "Choices" software application, and professional staff members all to assist you in the process. You can also check the Sherrat Library reference section for a wide variety of publications. Finally, the internet has many opportunities for career research. Below are a few links that have been identified as useful. Remember, reading and research can only take you so far. Experiencing the world of work can give you first-hand knowledge. Information interviewing is also a valuable way to get more insight, If you observe a career or job that looks interesting, do what you can to speak with somebody in that field.

- CareerInfoNet
- JobBank
- Occupational Outlook Handbook
- O*Net Online

Self Assessment

Understanding who we really are is a lifelong process. Having a good picture of who you are presently and where you want to go is a great tool in the decision making process. Read More By taking a close look at your interests, skills, values, and personality you will likely gain insight that will help you with the career decision making process. There are many ways to gather this information. Individuals often achieve this by simply taking a close look at the things they like to do and are good at. By doing this and maybe writing a few of the ideas down individuals can gain valuable insight. There are also a variety of assessment tools that can help individuals identify such characteristics and learn how to apply them to a career decision. Most of these activities are done with and advisor or counselor who is trained in interpreting the results. Individuals can make arrangements to take these assessments with the Academic and Career Development Center.

Decision Making

Not everybody has taken time to look at the components of decision making but by doing so you may be able to identify just where it is that you are stuck. Read More

A seven stage decision-making cycle has been described by Clarke Carney and Cinda Wells (Discover the Career Within You, Brook/Cole Publishing Company, 1995, pp. 20-24). These seven steps include:

Awareness: A sense of increasing discomfort and feeling that a change/decision is becoming immanent. This feeling can be triggered by both internal or external pressures. Internal pressures are driven by our own needs or desires (i.e., "I really want to get going on my major"). External pressures represent forces outside of us that are driving the need to make a decision (i.e., "I'm running out of GE courses and need to decide on a major").

Self-Assessment: The means of identifying the important criteria we must attend to in making career related decisions. These criteria include our interests, skills/abilities, values, etc. Any vocational options that we consider in our decision making, must be weighed against how they fit with our personal needs and desires.

Exploration: The process of making an informed decision necessarily includes gathering accurate, comprehensive, and relevant information. This information relates both to world of work information (i.e., job duties/tasks, training requirements for entry into the field, salary, working environments, etc.) and understanding of self as mentioned previously. This information is gathered in a variety of ways.

Integration: The assessment of "fit" between occupational criteria (i.e., tasks, environments, rewards/costs, etc.) and personal criteria (i.e., interests, abilities, values, etc.) helps to increase the chances of working in occupations that will meet our needs and desires. It should be noted that we live in a very dynamic world. Something that fits now, may not fit as well later. Also, it is unlikely that any single occupation will fulfill all of our personal desires. Some compromise may be necessary between what we want and what we can obtain.

Commitment: At some point we need to decide, we need to act. The time for commitment comes when we have gathered sufficient information to make an informed choice. We may not have arrived at complete assurance or be guaranteed that the option we are considering will work out. Often we must move ahead before we receive complete assurance or confidence.

Implementation: A commitment or decision will not succeed without a plan for how to proceed. This plan includes what we will do, when we will do it, and how we will secure the necessary resources to carry out our decision. A good plan should minimize surprises and anticipate difficulties and give us greater confidence when difficulties are encountered. But no plan will account for all contingencies, therefore, we will likely encounter some things we did not count on, which if the preceding steps have been thorough should not cause us great problems.

Reevaluation: Reevaluating our decisions allows us to make adjustments and to see if our desired outcomes are being achieved. At a later point we may re-decide and move in a different direction. This does not mean that our earlier decision was necessarily "bad." We may have learned more or things may have changed so that a different decision is required. Change is becoming the "constant" in our day and age. We must be willing to reexamine, readjust, and remain flexible.

Understanding Major Requirements

A close examination of the requirements of a degree may help you identify if a major is going to be congruent with your interests.

- Academic programs at SUU

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