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The art of picking a major

Think you have your career path planned out perfectly as you step foot onto the University of South Dakota campus for the first time this fall? Think again.

Chances are – for at least half of you – you’ll change your major at least once in the first two years of life at USD.

“And that’s perfectly normal,” said Steve Ward, director of the Academic & Career Planning Center.

Ward said he tries to dispel the myth that a major is tied to a specific career. While that is true for some, like nursing or elementary education, even those majors might surprise you, he said.

“Yes, you’re taking classes, but you’re also in an environment that is designed to prepare you for life outside of college, through college organizations, internships, study abroad, service learning, undergraduate research,” he said. “All of these things are what impact your marketability, your preparedness for the world after college.”

Unfortunately, pressure during high school often influences students to adopt this mentality, Ward said. Parents and teachers want their children to pursue careers that will lead to good salaries, to have security, and that’s a good thing.

“How can we as first-year college students, who have never taken college classes before, know what we’re going to major in?” Ward said. “I try to encourage students to be open to other options.”

First-year Jacob Doty said high school influences do put a lot of stress on choosing a career that will have a high-paying job without looking at other careers that are just as important, and person’s major isn’t necessarily what they’re going to do as a career.

“Everyone has their place,” Doty said. “We can’t all be doctors and lawyers.”

Doty, who started out as a psychology major but then switched to business, said his major could change again. College is a place of exploring, he said, and it’s experience that helps make those choices.

“Your classes are the core of what you’re doing, but the college experience helps grow you as a person and brings you to fruition as an adult.”

As a first-year student with one year under his belt, Doty said he would tell first-year students not to be afraid to change their major.

“There’s nothing wrong with doing what you like for the rest of your life instead of doing what you don’t like for the rest of your life,” he said.

Changing your major can sometimes be scary, but it’s worth exploring, said senior Rebekah Rinehart, who changed her major junior year and still graduated on time.

“I was an English Education major and realized I didn’t want to teach, that I wanted to communicate and be interactive with people in a way that didn’t require me to teach a subject,” she said.

The process of switching her major to Communication Studies involved several conversations with the Communication Studies faculty, Rinehart said.

“The professors in the department were a huge advocate,” she said. “They made sure I was on the right track and they really explained to me what I was getting into before I made the decision.”

For first-year students embarking on their time at USD, Rinehart said it’s important to explore classes that interest you.

“Take classes you love regardless of what your major is, and don’t worry if you don’t have a major,” she said. “It’s actually better that way.”