Choosing majors: things to be aware of

A comprehensive advice column for the least-important important decision you will ever make.


Connor McNeely, Opinion Editor

When some students go to college, they may have a faint idea of what they would like to study and do once they graduate. Others might be more focused on a specific career track, and may feel that the traditional undergraduate experience is not totally necessary for their goals. And some don’t have a clue about what they want to study, what they are truly passionate about or perhaps even capable of.

This is why Wake Forest thrives as a traditional liberal arts college. The students that arrive in Winston-Salem each fall are those that are keen to spend the next four years (or more!) maturing themselves in deeply personal ways — not just through surface level, pseudo-professional decisions. By definition, a liberal arts institution is one that prioritizes a broad academic education rather than limited and specialized learning.

At a school like Wake Forest, undergraduates are granted the opportunity to discover what they are good at, and even more importantly, what they love. In a variety of different fields (provided by general education requirements), you will be exposed to subjects that fascinate you and subjects that you hate. In the end, even the most career-ready students will end up with a host of useful skills and broad knowledge, and they’ll enjoy the process.

Beyond what you might hear about divisional requirements (read “business students griping about their required Fine Arts divisional”) the structure they provide is valuable in that it enriches the knowledge and aspirations of many successful individuals. Yes, you too could end up like Steve Jobs, who audited a calligraphy class and became a typography genius at Apple — all you have to do is take that first step and sign up for a course outside of your comfort zone.

Don’t panic if you are having trouble deciding on your major. Wake Forest students cannot declare a major until they have enough credits to be considered a second-semester sophomore (40 credits), and even then nothing is necessarily set in stone. I once wrote an article about a senior who learned Ancient Greek and Latin over the summer following his junior year, then changed his major from business to classics that fall. Anything is possible. It all depends on the passions you have and the work you’re willing to put in.

At Wake Forest, it can seem like there is an overwhelming amount of pressure to adopt a major that is indicative of certain financial stability and success. There are large swaths of students who are immediately locked into the business or medical tracks, which can leave some students pursuing a major in the humanities feeling like they are looking in from the outside. While it is true that the business and medical schools of Wake Forest are some of the most outstanding of their kind in the country, that doesn’t mean that they’re right for everyone, or that you need to be a part of one to be accepted.

The maxim certainly holds that in the “real world” (as boomers and many curmudgeons like to call it) only the first job you get is based on your major. Any job you hold after that is based on the reputation you develop. So work hard. Make connections and begin to develop your network early. Focus on the big picture, and don’t fret too much over the C you earned in your language requirement. When it comes down to it, the level of success you achieve in life after college will be measured either by how much you love what you do, or by who — or what — you are doing it for.

My piece of advice about choosing your major is to explore as many choices available to you as possible. Don’t try to impress your peers by adding additional majors or minors. Your major is a highly personalized choice, and it affects only you. Don’t make your decision about anyone or anything else. Take your time, and try not to overthink it. You’ve got years to make the decision.