Undecided on Your College Major? Join the Club!

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Greg Markley

OPINION —

I

n the novel “The Russia House”, a mysterious character named Dante is asked a few questions by a curious British bookseller. “Who are you, Dante? What do you do for a living?” He replies: “I am a moral outcast.” Says the Briton, Barley Scott Blair, “Oh, it’s always nice to meet a writer.”

Students embarking on their first year at Auburn University, Southern Union and other post-secondary institutions are sometimes encouraged by relatives and high school counselors to go into “more practical” majors. This is partly why science and medicine-related majors are among the most popular, not only at AU but at the University of Alabama.

This is not to discredit students who take the majors that promise the most money, or that delight those who love math, chemistry, etc. They are self-motivated, and their technical and science-related abilities and potential are admirable. Yet, students who want to study the liberal and creative arts are important, too; they are not “moral outcasts” but cultural risk-takers.

The top five majors at AU for 2020 were Business/Management; Engineering; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Communication and Journalism; and Agricultural/Veterinary Science. It’s good to see our land-grant school still has students interested in working to feed us, care for animals and value flora. Yet not everyone has to graduate from a school of higher education, so says U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R. – AL).

“It’s important for students to have access to nontraditional career pathways that provide them with opportunities to learn a trade or a skill and contribute to America’s workforce,” Tuberville said. “Our community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) do a wonderful job leading the way in rapid workforce development. My office proudly supported their efforts to obtain grants that enable them to provide more opportunities for their students.”

As for blue-collar work, a young waiter at a fast-food restaurant in downtown Auburn impressed me with the story of how he was accepted to a training class for a local company. “This man came into my store with a shirt that said where he worked, and so I asked him a bunch of questions about how I could get into training at his company.” This ambitious young man will shine in a critical job where a college degree is not required.

The National Center for Education Statistics found that 80% of college students change their majors at some time. They are moved to change by factors such as loss of interest in what they were learning, unhappiness with their learning environment in the old major and force from classmates and advisors to arrive at a decision to switch.

Three aspects can assist you in choosing a major. First, choose one that will prepare you for a specific career. Sign up for a class or two in that area; after a class or two you will better understand the jobs connected to that major. Second, determine if you want to put in the long hours and challenges a well-paying job demands. Third, select a major because you love the subject matter and find a career in it fascinating.

When undergraduates move into year three or year four, they get more into their listed major. It becomes more exciting as the student sees the various subcategories in his or her major. In political science, a student may learn about polling and methodology in campaigns and be riveted enough to specialize in that.

Or, a student might find comparative politics kindles more excitement than any other poli-sci class. In each case, the student is likely to stay in political science, but now knows which elements of that she most likes. Later, they may even study for a master’s in international politics.

Many colleges award a politics degree as a Bachelor of Arts, while others, like my undergrad school, award people like me A Bachelor of Science. But it didn’t worry me because somehow the term “BS” fits me. You probably wonder what the top five majors were at the University of Alabama in 2018. The results closely match AU’s. Accounting is No. 1, Business Administration/Management is No. 2, Finance is No. 3, Law is No. 4 and No. 5 is Management Information Systems.

Researchers say that most students do not pick a major until they are sophomores or juniors. So don’t worry about not having one yet — half your classmates may have one, yet will switch to another major. Just take the compulsory courses and have fun in whatever class you are in. You are not a “moral outcast” if you like to write, either. Leave that to John le Carre’s imagination, and to Dante’s mind.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has master’s degrees in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He is a member of the national Education Writers Association (focus-Higher Education). gm.markley@charter.net.

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