Choosing your major

What to do if you don’t know what you want to do

Illustration of a pole showing arrows in two different directionsMost students don’t wake up one day in Grade 11 knowing exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. The truth is, many still don’t know what career they want when they walk through the doors on their first day of university. And some are still unsure a year or two later when it’s time to choose a major.

“I must have been asked ‘What major should I pick?’ at least a thousand times,” says Shelly Brownlee, team lead for the School of Business Student Service Centre. “There’s a lot of pressure for people to know exactly what they want to do, but I always tell students that it’s okay not to know right away, and that choosing a major doesn’t necessarily set your career path in stone. Your major launches your career—it doesn’t dictate it. You can almost see the relief wash over students’ faces when they hear that.”

But at some point—usually in second or third year—students in the Faculty of Arts and Science and the School of Business do need to make a choice. Here are some great insights about what to do when it's time to choose.

Scenario 1 – You are one of the lucky few who knows exactly what you want to do

Congratulations! This is going to be easy. Here are some things you can do to make sure you’re happy with your choice.

Step 1: Talk to a discipline advisor 

Discipline advisors know a lot about what courses you need to take, the content, laddering, what order to take your courses in and career outcomes.

Step 2: Find the students’ club for the discipline you’re interested in

Almost every discipline has a student group—the Student Psychology Network, Accounting Club, and the MacEwan Anthropological Students’ Society are just a few.

“Clubs are a great way to talk to students, get engaged, see what the opportunities in the discipline are and what summer jobs you might want to look for,” says Clare Ard, an advisor in the Faculty of Arts and Science. “And you can talk to these people before you even make your choice of major. I know sometimes people are shy to approach a new group of people, but having a common interest is a really strong link that makes it a lot easier.”

How do you find the club for the discipline you’re interested in? Check the weekly email newsletter from your faculty, go to the department office and ask where you can find the study space for that discipline, or check out SAMU’s club listings.

Step 3: Talk to Career Services

Want detailed information on your future career path? Career Services has a ton of resources that can help.

Scenario 2 – You have an idea, but aren’t sure you’re ready to commit

Clare says you should still do all of the things listed in Scenario 1: talk to discipline advisors, other students and Career Services, but there are a few extra steps you can take to help you firm up your decision.

Step 1: Remember that choosing a major launches a career—it doesn’t dictate it

If you’re not exactly sure what you want to end up doing, choosing a major can be a bit scary. Clare says to remember that selecting a major is about opening doors, not closing them.

“There is some flexibility—all is not lost if you choose something and change your mind. If you start down one road and a year later decide it’s not for you, that’s okay.”

Step 2: Figure out what interests you

If you’re in Arts and Science, see what you can do with a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. If you’re in business, Shelly suggests thinking about what sector you’re interested in—and you can check out Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) for a lot of helpful information.

Speaker series talks are a great way to check out a discipline. “You never know where you might find inspiration,” says Clare. “Don’t be shy—just go and sit in the back. There’s no commitment and if doesn’t interest you, that’s totally fine.”

And if you’re in a course and find yourself fascinated by the material, talk to your instructor. “Faculty members are passionate about their disciplines,” says Clare.

Scenario 3 – If one more person asks you what your major is, you’re going to lose your mind

Step 1: Take a breath

You’re probably closer to a decision than you think.

“Sometimes students think that if it’s not a positive choice—‘I absolutely want to study that!’—then they don’t know what they want,” says Clare. “But when we talk, they almost always know exactly what they don’t want to study.”

Step 2: Look at everything and see what falls away

Clare suggests using the process of elimination. Start with the things you know you really don’t like to do. Does a lot of reading make you cringe? Do gray areas make you uncomfortable? Did you get Ds in your first two accounting classes? Does biology leave you with a really bad taste in your mouth?

“Knowing what you don’t like is a great way to rule out disciplines that aren’t up your alley. Once all of those things are off the table, the choice can suddenly become a lot clearer.”

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