5 things to do/not do when supporting your student in finding a major

The arrival of spring means that first year undergraduates are approaching their first opportunity to declare a major. As parents, supporters, mentors or advisors to these students, I want to share a few things to keep in mind as you assist them in this process. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, and when possible, acknowledge your own limitations. Encourage them to seek out support and connect with others who might fill any gaps in your own understanding.

1.    Do share with them your personal experience

Some of us who have attended a four-year program may recall our own mindset when we were first asked to declare a major. Whether it was a feeling of worry of having to define ourselves (for what felt like the remainder of our lives) to a general apathy around the process—we as supporters know that there is more to our life than our majors. Share with your student the experience you had as it might help to normalize the feelings they are having. If you haven’t had this experience in whole or in part—that’s okay too! Connect them with others in your network who can share a personal story around major selection with your student.

2.    Do not let your personal bias(es) interfere

Regardless of what your personal experience around majors was, avoid letting bias creep into your support of your student. You might have found a specific major too daunting, or not marketable, or a “waste of time”, but do not let your personal feelings influence how you support your student. If you worry about career prospects for a specific major, encourage your student to research career paths associated with the major. If you worry about a major being too challenging for your student, encourage them to identify resources that they can rely on in order to successfully navigate completion of the major. Ask open-ended questions to help your student arrive at their own conclusions. Remember that their values, aspirations, and reality may be different from your own.

3.    Do help guide them to resources

One way to help avoid the influence of personal bias on your student’s decision making is to direct your student to different resources that might provide a bit more objectivity. MIT has a variety of resources that can help students explore different majors including discovery/exploration classes, experiential learning opportunities, and department events. In addition to this list of resources assembled by a student career exploration leader, Yan Wu, I encourage you to use your own resources and connect them to people in your network that may provide guidance and recommendations for how your student can decide on their major.

4.    Do not let your student feel too overwhelmed or discouraged

All of these resources may sometimes overwhelm your student, and soon they may succumb to a phenomenon known as choice overload. You may need to help them prioritize choices, work out an action plan, or just even be a person with whom they can talk through their ideas. You may want to help them realize that regardless of what they choose, their major will ultimately play a minimal role in their overall identity. That it is okay to not have the “right major” selected immediately and that they can continue to explore and change their mind over time.

5.    Do lean on CAPD for help

Career Advising & Professional Development is a great resource on campus to direct your student to get help with their future plans, whether that might be a future career or a future major. You and your student can learn more about us on the CAPD website. Our career advisors provide a judgment-free zone for students to discuss their hopes (or fears) around major selection and future career. We can provide guidance and recommendations to resources that can help your student feel more confident in their selection. Your student can make appointments with us through Handshake.

By Erik Pavesic
Erik Pavesic Assistant Director, Career Advising & Training