University of Vermont

University Communications

'Major Fair' Helps Students Find Focus

(Photo: Thomas Weaver)

Somewhere between “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and “what do you do for a living?” many of us come to grips with that core question of college life: “What’s you major?” While some have the good fortune to be zeroed in on a major and what lies beyond from the day they fill out a college application, many more are on a search through an overwhelming range of areas of study that, gulp, lead to the possibilities awaiting after graduation day. It’s the source of a fair amount of hand-wringing among first-year students and sophomores.

Decisions, decisions. Yesterday, posters all over the Davis Center led the way to the ballroom where staff and faculty had set up a sort of “one stop shop” to help the undecided, the undeclared, and the just plain bewildered better find their academic paths. The event is one of those great ideas that requires plenty of cooperation across the university to make happen. That job fell to Dani Comey, head of programming for first-year students, who coordinated with Pam Gardner at Career Services, student services staff in deans' offices throughout the university, and academic departments to create the inaugural event.

Erin Monahan, a transfer student who started her college years at the University of Delaware, sat at a table in the DC ballroom with her friend Dani Esenler. While Dani, a major in biology/pre-med, was trying to sort out options for minors and concentrations, Erin was taking on more fundamental questions. Currently undeclared, she was studying options in economics, international relations, community development. “I’m generally an indecisive person,” she admitted, but added that once she had that clear goal it would help her focus in on the work at hand. The major fair was all about helping students like her push that decision forward.

In the first twenty minutes of yesterday’s event, Gardner and colleagues already had a healthy line in front of the Career Services table. Gardner noted that they can help ease a typical roadblock in making that academic declaration — the daunting sense that choosing a major is choosing what a student is going to do with the rest of his/her life. While there’s some truth to that, every psychology major is not going to become a psychologist. “With every major there are a set of core competencies, it’s not purely the subject that you are studying,” she says. Gardner has set up a matching game in which students try to pair up examples of college majors and eventual careers from real-life UVM alumni. The paths and the way that majors have informed them are not always so simple.

I imagine there were some anxieties eased yesterday as students may have pinned on one of the “I Declared: Major Fair 2013″ buttons and headed down the stairs or even if they just left better informed about their options and still pondering college, department, major, minor, concentration, and, you know, life.

“This normalizes that search,” Gardner says. “Students can walk in here and see that they aren’t the only one.”

This story originally appeared on the Vermont Quarterly blog.