Majors are hard to choose, still an important decision

Laura Kobs, a Houston freshman, speaks to School of Education representative Lindsey Freed about possible majors and studies at the Major Fair on Wednesday afternoon in the Barfield Drawing Room. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Phoebe Say | Staff Writer

Some students proudly wear their “I know where I’m going” T-shirts, but the truth of the matter is, when they arrive on campus, not everyone does.

Choosing a major is one of the biggest decisions a student will make early (or late) in their college career and for some, it might feel overwhelming, but the Find Your Major Fair can help. Factors such as personal preferences and talents all play a part in finding the right major, and when compounded upon by external factors such as family or finances, it’s no wonder students feel the pressure.

Thousand Oaks, Calif. freshman Brittany Carty hasn’t declared a major yet but attended the Office of Career and Professional Development’s “Find Your Major” Fair in hopes of learning more about the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work.

“I’ve never really known what I wanted to do,” Carty said, “but we’re paying all this money for me to find out.”

For students like Carty whose families are personally investing in their Baylor education, the university’s tuition rates exert a two-fold pressure for some students. Families set their own expectations in addition to a financial stake. For others, the reality of student loans comes with its own fears.

Corona, Calif. freshman Erika Point said she felt pressure about choosing a major because all her life she had been set on political science. Point said she felt like changing her major would essentially be changing her life path. She attended the fair to learn about possible majors in the mathematics field.

For Lubbock senior and pre-medical student Cheryl Aguas, her time at Baylor has largely been about pursuing her calling. Aguas said for her there are two sides to calling, passion and faith.

“I love science. I go into an organic chemistry class and it’s like a worship service to me because I’m like, ‘Wow, Lord, you spoke this in a second,’” Aguas said. “Every night of studying is almost like a liturgy habit formation. I’ve seen my faith play out in that way.”

“Whenever you find material that you like learning, not just because you’re making an easy A but because you’re challenging your mind and because it’s beautiful to you, I think that’s a good indicator of where you should be,” Aguas said.

Amy Ames, assistant director of professional development in the Office of Career and Professional Development, said she believes events like the major fair are important because they give students an opportunity to speak to faculty about career and graduate school options.

For undecided students, Ames said she recommends doing some job shadowing and talking to professionals in a student’s field of interest.

“It’s normal to have an undecided major,” Ames said.

Simply because someone has officially declared a major doesn’t mean they don’t also experience doubts or uncertainty, Ames said. Not everyone has it all together, Ames emphasized, and there are numerous options for Baylor students who are still considering what academic and career paths to take.

While Ames said it’s important to take an individual’s academic strengths into consideration, she said knowing oneself is key. CPD offers Career Exploration to guide students in the process of choosing a major and career path. The process includes personality assessments like the Strong Interest Inventory, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Focus 2, a self-guided online program.

Mack Gingles, associate professor of Baylor’s department of art, said he encourages students interested in the arts to consider adding an art minor.

Employers are looking for graduates with critical thinking skills, Gingles said, and studies in art equip students with the ability to solve problems.

“Art is complex and creativity is critical to the thinking process,” Gingles said.

Gingles said he believes a lot of people are good at art but may not know it, perhaps because they were never encouraged in the discipline. For students considering the possibility of venturing into art at an academic level, Gingles recommends students take a few classes like Drawing I or Design I to introduce themselves to the fundamental concepts.

While some students may express concerns about job prospects or pay, Gingles said he believes it’s all about how students insert themselves into the job market.

“Not all artists are the same,” Gingles said. “We all have different dispositions.”

There are a variety of avenues in the art field, ranging from commercial to fine art. Gingles said he believes fine art is more about questions while commercial is to some degree about a product. If a student can market themselves well in their respective specialty, Gingles said he believes it is possible to do quite well despite the uncertainty often associated with art majors.

Contrary to some misconceptions, associate professor of physics and undergraduate program director Dr. Jeffrey Olafsen said he believes disciplines like physics can also be passion-driven.

Olafsen said many of his students possess a passion for physics that was often born after crossing paths with a passionate physics teacher in high school. Olafsen said he experienced something similar when he discovered an aptitude for math in high school. He went on to double-major in physics and mathematics at the University of Southern Mississippi before earning his doctorate in physics from Duke University.

“Physics is not what you do in a textbook, it’s what you do in the lab,” Olafsen said.

While lab work is not necessarily a defining characteristic of STEM students, Olafsen said he considers it an integral factor in the discipline. Olafsen said he works extensively in mentoring undergraduate students in research. Olafsen has published several articles in conjunction with undergraduate researchers in premiere journals like Physical Review Letters.

According to Olafsen, one misconception about physics majors is a result of the popular sitcom “Big Bang Theory.” Physics majors have diverse interests, Olafsen said, they aren’t just holed up in a lab.

Students in fields like STEM should consider a religion minor, according to department of religion senior lecturer Dr. Joe Coker. Coker said he believes adding religion courses could serve to balance between the hard and soft disciplines and round out a student’s education.

While Dr. Derek Dodson, senior lecturer in religion, said students often associate a major in religion with vocational ministry, he said he believes that is not necessarily the case. Past religion majors at Baylor have gone on to medical or law school, Dodson noted.

Coker said he believes exploring religion in an academic setting allows students to develop their spirituality.

“It’s not just an intense Bible study,” Coker said.

For Dodson, courses like Christian Scriptures and Biblical Heritage allow students to think about faith and religion in ways they haven’t thought of before.

Between hard and soft disciplines ranging from art to physics and a multitude of majors in between, it’s no wonder some Baylor students struggle to find the right fit.

Ames said she believes knowing oneself is integral when deciding a major. For Olafsen, passion is a driving force and for Gingles, following a passion can result in the skills employers are looking for. No matter what discipline, Dodson and Coker said they believed each individual should seek a well-rounded education.

The path toward the “right” major is not always clear, if ever, but perhaps finding the intersection between passion, skill and wholeness is a step in the right direction.