How to Choose a Major
There are many things you can do to explore possible majors. Some are easier than others, and some may take an hour while others will last an entire quarter. Some methods will work better for you than others.
Whatever you decide to do, we suggest that you:
- Treat the process like one of your jobs or one of your classes (i.e., "This quarter I'm taking Oceanography, Math, Art History, and Choosing a Major.")
- Set specific goals. For example, "By the end of this quarter I'll attend information sessions for my top five majors, try to narrow them to three, then meet with the department advisers for each of those majors."
- Work with general advisers throughout the process. The advisers in our office can be outstanding partners in this process. They can help you recognize and articulate your own interests, help you set goals, and provide a wealth of information.
Review the list of undergraduate majors
Familiarize yourself with all the majors offered at UW. You'll likely be able to identify those that you'd like to explore futher, and conversely, those that you are not interested in. Narrowing it down to 10 or 20 possible areas of interest is a great first step. Follow the links to the General Catalog for more information about each of these possible majors to review admission and graduation requirements. Reviewing majors by interest area is another great way to explore your options.
Visit departmental websites
Almost every program and department at the UW has its own website which you should be able to find by searching for it (i.e., "uw geography"). These sites, all different, will include an introduction to the subject for new students, and will suggest the best way for you to learn more about the majors they offer.
Attend information sessions
Many undergraduate majors offer 30- to 50-minute information sessions every quarter that discuss not only how to apply and graduate, but also research, internship, and career opportunities. You will learn from students already in the major, advisers, and faculty from the department.
Take a few introductory courses
Taking an introductory course is a great way to explore an area of interest. Review our list of Suggested Courses for examples of introductory classes that look interesting and might be related to your list of potential majors. If you decide not to major in the subject, you can still count the course toward General Education requirements.
Assess your academic strengths
Many majors at the UW have competitive admission. Are you doing well in coursework required by majors that interest you? Your chances for success at the UW are greatly enhanced if you choose a subject you enjoy and do well in. This is one reason you shouldn't postpone taking language, math and science courses. It is helpful to discover early on whether you enjoy and do well in these subjects.
Talk with a general adviser
Since they are familiar with all of the majors the UW offers, general advisers can, among other things, help you compare majors. They can also serve as a great partner in your overall process of choosing a major. There are general advisers in our office, in the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, Honors, and in Student-Athlete Academic Services.
Talk with a career counselor
Although majors and careers are not the same thing, career counselors are experienced at helping students explore their passions and interests, which can be useful in both career and academic planning. The Career Center offers all undergraduate students the opportunity to meet one-on-one with their counselors in their suite on the first floor of Mary Gates Hall.
Also, the Counseling Center offers the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Strong Interest Inventory (SII), two widely-used surveys which will ask you to answer a broad range of questions about your interests and your personality. The results can help you think about how you are both similar to and different from other people. Being able to conceptualize and talk about these aspects of your personality may help you identify your academic interests more clearly.
Talk with family and friends
People who have known you for many years and who know you well may have some insights they can share with you.
Talk with advisers from majors you want to explore
Department or college advisers are some of the best resources on campus because their knowledge of their department spans the continuum from minute details about degree requirements, faculty, and courses (e.g., "That course is only offered every other year, and you never want to take it at the same time as this class.") to broad intellectual issues of theory and philosophy (e.g., "Professor X's research all springs from her theory of X, Y, Z"). They can help you form a better picture of the field, major,and faculty.
Talk with faculty and students in the major
Perhaps you're thinking of majoring in an area you're taking a class in this quarter. Vist your instructor during office hours and ask about his or her interests and background in the discipline. Remember: this person has dedicated his or her life to this subject, to its advancement and its dissemination. That's pretty powerful. If anyone could give you the bird's eye view of that major, a faculty member can. If you're not in a class with someone, ask the department adviser for a faculty suggestion.
To get the ultimate insider's view, talk with other students. Find out what drew them to the major, what they hope to do in the future, and what the good opportunities are.
Participate in internships and research
Sometimes there's no way to know if you'll like something until you do it. Work with the Center for Experiential Learning and Diversity to gather leads on jobs and internships in your areas of interest.
The UW brings in more than a billion dollars in research funding each year. Many of these research projects welcome undergraduate research assistants. For many students, participating in the actual research of a discipline can be the spark needed to ignite a passion. To find opportunities, connect with the Undergraduate Research Program.
Review academic journals
Visit Odegaard Undergraduate Library and ask a librarian about the top journals in your area of interest. They will direct you to publications that represent the current research in the discipline. Although the language in the journals may be difficult to understand at first, it will give you a sense of things, and even just the titles of the articles may spark your interest.
Attend an academic conference
All academic disciplines have conferences at least once a year. They may be expensive to attend, and they usually aren't local, but if you have the opportunity to attend one, you should. If nothing else, it's a very interesting academic & cultural phenomenon. You'll see cutting edge research in the area, you'll meet lots of other students (many of them graduate students), and hopefully you'll get an insider's glimpse into the discipline. Talk to department advisers to find out more about conferences.
Subscribe to department and group mailing lists
A number of University of Washington departments and programs maintain email lists for students. The messages may include descriptions of new courses, changes in requirements, upcoming deadlines, information about internship and research opportunities, scholarship information, and announcements of upcoming lectures and events.
These lists welcome prospective students as well as students currently in the program. Some of the information may not be applicable to you as a pre-major student, but the messages will give you the flavor of the program and an idea of what opportunities are available.
All of the lists are described on the UW Mailman website. To enroll, just click on the list name, log in (if necessary), and click "subscribe."