Marvelina Barcelo is the co-director of the Transfer Center and a member of the iFALCON grant team.
During the fall university application season, I came across more students second-guessing the major they have come to identify. Selecting “undeclared” is not an option for transfer students on the university application like it is for freshman applicants. So questions such as “Do you think this major will limit my career goal?” or “I like a lot of subjects; which major do you think I should choose?” start to arise during counseling sessions. Students turn to counselors with hopes of receiving the magical answer. At times, I wish I could be that fortune teller with the crystal ball in front of me so that I may tell transferring students which major would best suit them. But the bottom line is that many of us have gone through this very same process to get to our profession. For many, it may have taken 2 or more times changing majors before they found the best fit.
This process for students can be extremely heartfelt by counselors because we know that deciding on a major is a life-changing decision. More often than not, students will have doubts about selecting a major for fear that it will result in limited career options, such as English majors will end up teaching, or Political Science majors will end up pursuing law school, or that you can only major in the sciences to enter pre-professional health careers. Some students have limited themselves in this process by not seeking out the resources available to them on campus. The Career Services Center, in my opinion, is a service that is underutilized by students when it comes to assisting them with choosing a major or simply learning about career options. At some point before you transfer, you should stop by the Career Center (next to the Assessment Center).
I was one of those students who was stuck between a rock and a hard place with my major. After completion of almost a hundred quarter units (66 semester units) at UCSB, I had come to the realization that Business Economics was not the right fit for me. I thought that I made the right choice picking Business because I excelled in math during high school. Little did I know the “other” courses I would be required to take for my major I would not care for too much. It is so important to know the “other” courses you will be taking to complete your degree. Being the first to attend college in my family, I never knew that I could be proactive in researching my choice of major. I didn’t know I could preview the university’s general catalog to see the courses I would have to take to complete the degree. That would have saved me a lot of stress. All I knew was that an accountant would require strong math skills, and I had those skills. It made sense to me. Now, I am constantly using College Source (www.collegesource.org) to help students learn how to preview the coursework for their degree.
So you can see that there is a much larger picture when identifying a major or career that many students are oblivious to. In my case, my involvement with a student organization on campus helped me to acquire a skill set that would allow me to transfer to many careers. I learned to speak in front of a group, collaborate with business leaders in the community, and coordinate meetings, fundraisers, banquets and trips to out-of-state conferences, and work with various personalities within the club leadership team. This skill set I use all the time in my role of a counselor when I facilitate workshops, coordinate transfer functions and collaborate with university representatives. In a way, this was like my internship. I was in a learning environment that helped me to see my strengths, likes and build new skill sets. I enjoyed this more than I did my other 2 formal internships at a bank.
Having to change majors was very difficult for me and I can imagine that this is the same feeling many students may endure. I felt like I wasted my time taking my major courses and that I was incapable of mastering the Business Economics major. I was confusing my frustration with the high expectations I had set for myself, when instead, I simply needed to change my major to something that would better fit what I enjoyed the most, which was to work with people on a more personal level. I learned this about myself when I was active in my student club. Sociology became my new major in the middle of my junior year.
To a certain point, we are guided by the rule that we should choose a major based on a subject we do well in and like. At least that is what I remembered from high school. So I share with students that this frustration may arise because they are juggling an interest and a passion when it comes to choosing a major/career goal. I ask students to be patient when they are walking through their web of interests trying to sort out the passion that lies within them. It will eventually become transparent. But before it becomes transparent like a crystal ball, it may take various exploratory courses or even a job/internship/volunteer activity to help with your decision making process. One thing that does lie in your hands is to be proactive in researching your interests and passions. A first step can be visiting the Career Services Center or exploring majors on the ASSIST website (www.assist.org). On the ASSIST website, there are some degree descriptions that may be useful. Another resource is your instructors. I am sure you will find that many of your instructors changed majors probably 2 or more times while in college. Don’t be afraid to ask what their experience was like in college. If you happen to see me around campus, please know that I am more than glad to share my experience at UCSB or talk to you about your major.