Maybe you have ideas about what you want to study or major in when you get to college, but most incoming college freshman don’t know where the academic journey is going to take them. You don’t have to have your path figured out in your first semester of college, or your first year for that matter. However, at some point you’ll most likely need to declare a major or find more of a focus. Here are some ways to explore academic interests while you are trying to figure it out.
Talk to people
Are there any adults in your life with a career you’ve always wondered about? Maybe the parent of a friend, maybe the friend of a parent. Maybe a teacher’s brother or sister or the dentist you’ve been seeing since you were a kid. Ask if you can visit the person at work sometime to observe and ask questions. Chances are, they will be flattered. Who knows? The experience might lead to an internship, or the relationship might deepen over time, and this person might turn out to be your mentor.
Talk to your friends about what they are interested in and what they plan to study or are currently involved with. You might learn something new or discover a new path that suits you.
Talk to your academic advisor and faculty
In registering for your first term courses, most colleges will assign you an academic adviser. These advisers have usually worked with lots of students and will very likely have lots of experience about courses of study and how career opportunities might be related to different majors or academic programs. Most liberal arts colleges have an array of required courses in the first year which are directed toward different areas of study. Consider which parts of these courses you enjoy or find interesting. Speak to these faculty during office hours. Many have tons of experience guiding students through their academic experience. For the classes that interest you, see whether you can do a research or internship project with any of them to explore the area more fully.
For more on this topic, check out this excellent podcast developed by Wentworth Institute of Technology.
Audit a class/go to lectures
One of the great things about colleges is that there is a lot of potentially interesting stuff that happens outside formal classes and you can really sample lots of different things. There are constantly lectures on all kinds of different topics from professors, business people, political figures and even media and entertainment people. Check them out when you can – something you had not thought about may just grab your interest. Most colleges also allow you to attend classes as a non-registered student to check out a subject (this is called auditing). Your academic adviser or college website should be able to let you know how your school handles auditing. Be creative – maybe you’ll really like archaeology or maybe economics. Be open to possibilities.
Attend a career fair
Keep an eye out for a career fair on your campus or in your community. At these events, employers set up rows of booths where recruiters hand out information and answer questions. Even if you’re not actively seeking a job, the recruiters will be happy to talk to you all about what you can expect in the Marine Corps, at a large software company or in the classroom. These conversations may lead to new ideas for areas of study you never considered before. They also may help you understand what kinds of courses of study might prepare you well for various careers. It might turn out that advertising agencies really love hiring sociology majors!
Remember that ideally in your college experience you want to get both a well-rounded education and also some level of specialization and focused knowledge in a particular area. Your advisers and faculty are there to guide you along the way.