Archive | October, 2012

How Do I Choose a Major?

29 Oct

Deciding on a major can be challenging!

High school seniors typically fret about their future college major. While it is true that some students have to strap themselves into a carefully matriculated four- or five-year path (such as engineering), other students have time to explore various courses of study.

Questions to consider are as follows:

  • What activities do I enjoy?
  • What high school (or college) courses have I enjoyed the most?
  • What courses were my academic strengths?
  • What kinds of jobs do students with that major typically pursue?

Another consideration should be personality type. Students often have a poor understanding of who they are as a person. For example, I once had a very shy girl student who was convinced she wanted to go into public relations or sales. I encouraged her to jump into leadership responsibilities and community service so that she would be more involved with the public. When I found out later that she was studying accounting, I knew that was a better match.

You can Google “personality test” or “Myers-Briggs Personality Test” and find a variety of online tests that can help you determine whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, whether you are a person who is more sensing or more intuitive, whether you are more thinking or more feeling, and whether you are more judging or more perceiving. (A quick one is at NOTE: Most of these sites are selling something–buyer, be aware!) Or . . . you could just ask Mom or Dad. They know you best. Plus, I’ve often found that students choose answers for what they WANT to be, rather than who they ARE.

Many colleges will allow you to enroll as an “undecided” student. That means that you do not have to choose a major right from the get-go. Instead, you take courses that will meet general education requirements for graduation. Chances are that you will change your major twice during the course of your college years anyway.

These steps will help you choose your major:

1. Talk to an advisor about your major options.

2. Enroll in a major and career exploration course at your college.

3. Think through how your interests, values, skills, and personality could work together toward an interesting career path.

4. Generate a list of possible majors and research them.

5. Read the descriptions of the courses you would have to take. If they sound terrible, that’s probably not the major for you!

6. Think about the pros and cons of each major and take an introductory course (one that will meet graduation requirements anyway).

7. Ask questions of professors, advisors, and students in those majors.

Remember that most majors do not equal careers. There can be many different careers that could spring from a major you choose.


University of Nevada, Reno, College of Liberal Arts for some of the above information, as well as the following links:

What can I do with a major in ______________?


Just a personal note . . . my daughter called me last night. After two painful years of studying difficult mathematics courses and lab sciences, she is “so excited” about taking a full load of upper division courses in rhetoric (the art of argumentation/persuasion). Her initial goal is unchanged: she wants to help people. Working for a nonprofit organization will allow her to do just that . . . just as much as she would have experienced in a medical field. Similarly, life will lead you to just the right path!

Careful counsel, exploration, and assessment can direct you to the right major path!


How to Make the Most of a College Fair

22 Oct

You can get a lot of bang for your zero-cost buck by attending a College Fair. These events, held typically in the fall and spring around the country bring college recruiters to cities to talk with prospective students and their parents. If you do not have the time or money to travel all over the country or even just your own state, you can get some pertinent information in a short couple of hours.

You can find one in your area by talking to your high school counselor. Some of the major ones are sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and its fairs are on the following schedule: An organization on the West Coast that sponsors college fairs is the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC), and the next one of those fairs will be held at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Sunday, Nov. 4, from 12 to 4 p.m. Students should register in advance to save time at the door for this FREE event: Typically, as many as 200 or more colleges attend these events — and many of my former students found their dream college at one of those fairs.

As you search for these college fairs in your area, make sure that as you register online, that you are registering as a STUDENT and not a college rep. These are most always FREE events, so if the online form asks for payment . . . oops, you’ve got the wrong form!

Often these college reps are from the prospective students or outreach office at their university. However, sometimes you might find that admissions officers and perhaps even the head admissions counselor is standing right in front of you. You do not need to dress in business attire, but you will want to look sharp.

To make the most of these events, engage with the college representatives. As I’ve taken students to college fairs over many years, I give them a pep talk before we enter the event, saying something silly like this: “You’re happy! You’re smart! You’re friendly!” That gets a smile on their faces and helps them understand that they should be the one most proactive about getting the most from the experience.

Do the following:

1. Smile, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Sally Smart, and I’m a student from Littletown.”

2. Explain what kind of college program you’re interested in. “I’m interested in mechanical engineering. Can you tell me something about your program?”

3. Engage in conversation about those subjects important to you. Here are some other great questions to ask:

  • “How would you characterize the students at your university?”
  • “What do students like most about the college?” “What do they like the least?”
  • “Is the faculty accessible to students other than the traditional office hours?”
  • “Are any departments being cut back or discontinued? If so, why?”
  • “What percentage of students receive merit-based financial aid? And what percentage of students receive need-based financial aid?”

You and your parents might want to make a list of important questions before you attend the college fair — ones that are most important to you.

I coach my students to ask each college rep at least a couple questions. One that can often catch a rep off-guard is “Do you like your job?” You can find out the true answer to that in their face — and that can say volumes about a school, too! If the rep was a student at that college, ask that person to relate some of their best and worst experiences.

Pick up any and all of the freebies: brochures, flyers, pens, and other trinkets. If you can’t use them, your friends and even your high school counselor probably can.

Any exciting news about college acceptances yet?

Making the Most of a College Campus Tour

20 Oct


Many seniors and their parents are taking advantage of open house events on college campuses. Ideally, the time to visit colleges was probably in the last year, as seniors are now time-impacted with the pile of admissions and scholarship applications stacking up.

However, if the university campus is close or if you will be visiting family over the holidays in the coming two months, it can make sense to take a tour. If the campus is a turnoff, you can save $50 or more on one single application.

There’s plenty you can do to set up a visit or make the most out of it.

First, the setup:

1. Find the Prospective Students or Visitors or Tour link on the college’s website.

2. Some colleges have you complete a short online application for a tour. Others want you to call to set that up.

3. If you are asked if you want to visit certain departments or meet with certain individuals, take advantage of that opportunity.

4. Also, it pays off to visit on a day when students are on campus, so that you can get a feel for what campus life is like. Ask if you can sit in on a class in your major area of interest. (Parent, once your senior sees how challenging courses are at a university, he or she will pour more into their senior year academics!)

5. Some colleges have overnight programs–definitely worth the extra money and time, so you can get a sense of what life will be like there next year.

In our older son’s senior year we visited Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. We had spent many hours in the car getting there, and yet after five minutes and before we’d even parked, he said, “Okay, I’ve seen enough.” My husband and I were a little stunned, but he’d made up his mind that Cal Poly was the school for him. He did get a great education there, but  we should have arranged a formal tour and prepared a long list of questions for a guide.

To prep for your trip:

1. Make a list of sites on the campus you want to visit. Include a dorm, the cafeteria, the recreation center, the athletics facilities, a typical large lecture hall, a typical smaller classroom, the library, other campus notables, and the student union and store (you may want a sweatshirt to take home!).

2. Make a list of questions for your tour guide or host. The answers to a lot of questions can be found on a college’s FAQ page or on, but sometimes it pays to hear answers from student tour guides themselves. Keep in mind, however, that it’s their job to sell their college to prospective students and their parents.

Some of those could be the following:

– What’s the most popular major and why?

– What is the campus like on the weekend? What do students do then?

– Where is the best place to study?

– Which is the best dorm for the serious student?

– Should I bring a car — and why or why not?

– What kinds of free tutoring is offered — and where?

– How many hours a day will I be studying on weekdays and the weekend?

– How and where would I get academic counseling each semester?

– What can I expect when I visit with my professor during his or her office hours?

– Will I be taught by professors or by graduate students?

– How do I make connections to play intramural athletics or to join a club?

– What’s the best way to get a job on campus? Where are the best-paying jobs?

– What opportunities exist for internships and study abroad? What percentage of students take advantage of those programs?

Information about class size, average financial aid packages, teacher-to-student ratios and such are usually available on the college’s website, but you could include those as well.

On the day of your trip:

1. Wear study shoes. College campuses are HUGE!

2. Take an umbrella if rain is possible. When I took our youngest on a three-day college tour from southern to northern California, it poured rain on the last day. We were unprepared and didn’t see as much of the Stanford and Cal campuses as I had hoped.

3. Plan to have lunch on the campus. Send Mom and Dad to the student union shopping while you pretend to be that cool new freshman. Try it on and see how it feels!

Oddly enough, the one campus out of six that our older daughter did not visit ended up being the one that she chose. While the adjustment was initially challenging, she ended up loving her college, profs, and friends she made there.

It seems that some students and their colleges are a perfect fit, like a hand into a well-crafted glove; other times, some tailoring is required. In most cases, though, trying on a college first makes sense. If you can’t visit, check the college’s website or You Tube for virtual tours.

What colleges have you visited recently?