Major/Minor Declaration

If you have a sophomore, this is the week for him/her to declare a major (and a minor, if desired).  The Registrar’s office has info on the mechanics of declaring. I want to provide a few thoughts on what I hear from students about majors (disclaimer – my opinions, not necessarily that of every adviser or WFU).

Students and majors tend to fall into one of a few camps:

I found my major and I love it!  

I have no idea what to major in and I am superstressed about it.

I want to major in X and I dread telling my parents.

Let’s look at those one by one.

For those of you with students who found their major and love it:

Kudos, congratulations, rock on! A student who is excited about his/her choice of major tends to be happier and have better grades than one who is majoring in Something They Don’t Love (but are doing it to please mom and dad). If your Deac loves his or her major area, be encouraging and excited for him or her.

When your student finds an academic passion, his/her grades tend to be better. This is a subject your Deac finds fun, invigorating, exciting. You don’t mind working hard for a subject you love, and typically the grades reflect that.

For those of you with students who have no idea what to major in and are superstressed about it (most of you are probably freshmen parents):

The choice of major ultimately has to rest with the student. It has to be his or her decision, because your student has to own the consequences of that decision.  Instead of offering suggestions of a major, you might try some prompting questions:

– Which classes have you liked the most so far, and why? What is it about those classes you liked?

– What can you absolutely rule out as a no? Are there Divisions you gravitate toward? And if so, where can you turn to learn more about the requirements for particular majors? (Hint: the Undergraduate Bulletin lays all that out for them!)

– What have other students you know said about that major? If you haven’t asked any of your friends/hallmates/classmates, would that be worth your time?

– Are there people on campus who might be able to help you think about options? Academic Advising? OPCD? Faculty or staff mentors?

Every student should ultimately be able to find some area of interest. It takes longer for some than others.  (And when your Deac does find his or her passion, go back to the first part of this blog and read the advice about when your student loves his/her major.)

For our students who say I want to major in X and I dread telling my parents:

Some of our students are actively worried about telling their mom, dad, or loved ones about their choice of major. If I had a dollar for every student who confided in me that he/she is worried about telling parents their intended major, I would have a much bigger and nicer house 🙂

In all seriousness, for some of our students, they feel a pressure/obligation (real or imagined) that mom and dad expect them to major in X, and they will be a disappointment to them if they do not. You may have never even talked about majors or suggested a particular one, but your Deac may feel so anyway.

To the degree that you can take that pressure off your student, do so. Tell your son or daughter that you don’t care what he/she majors in and you will be supportive of the decision.  Every single major can ultimately lead to a good job or happy post-Wake life (see #2 below).

Two bits of parting advice for all parents, then a story:

1) Let your student major in whatever he/she wants. That is the greatest gift you can give them.

2) Resist the urge to ask “what are you going to do with that as a major?” No matter the major, Wake Forest students develop strong writing skills, analytical skills, and critical thinking. Our students can access great personal and career development tools in the OPCD to hone their resumes, practice interviewing, etc. Any and every major can succeed and find jobs. (Another way to think of this: if you were a hiring manager, would you rather hire a student who had an overall GPA of an A in Major X That He/She Loved, or a student who had a B- or a C GPA in a Major They Felt Pressured to Choose?)

Finally, a story.

One of my best Wake friends fell into the “I have no idea what I want to major in” camp. She struggled and struggled and took most of sophomore year to test various departments and try to find it. And then when she hit spring semester, she fell in love with one of her classes, read up on the major requirements and got excited about the classes she had to take. It was like a giant weight was lifted off her shoulders. She found a purpose! She was excited.

And then she told her family.

The reaction was tepid at best, deflating at worst. My friend heard the message ‘you cannot major in that. you will never get a job. you have to pick something else.’ Being a people-pleaser, she did choose something else (she ultimately minored in the thing she loved, but she majored in something that was Fine but not Great).

Having that parental disapproval was a major blow to her at a time when she had been so excited. It was terrible to watch. I loved her family and still do to this day, but I wanted so badly to tell them how much their daughter had cried about being told she couldn’t follow her passion, and how she would have been plenty employable as a major in X, which she loved.

Please, please don’t do that to your kids.

— by Betsy Chapman

Categories: academicsadvising


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