How to Choose a Major

Academic department banners at a Commencement ceremony
Banners for each area of study on display at Commencement.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been asked what you want to study in college. But what if you don’t know?

For many of us, entering college marks an important transition in our academic, personal and professional lives. We have greater freedom to choose the classes we want to take, extracurriculars and clubs we want to be a part of, friends we want to have, and interests we want to pursue. This can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when it comes time to pick a major.

Gain experience and exposure

At Gettysburg College, we want to develop lifelong learners who are able to engage with topics across multiple fields of inquiry. The Gettysburg Curriculum is designed to achieve four primary learning goals – multiple inquiries, integrative thinking, effective communication, and informed citizenship. For those of you who are uncertain about what you would like to major in, use the Gettysburg Curriculum to begin exploring the various interests you may have. It is no surprise that in a college of the liberal arts and sciences, you will inherently be exposed to many academic departments, often even in your first two years on campus, when at the end of those two years, you will declare at least one major, if you haven’t done so already.

Student sitting and talking with Professor Anne Douds
Public policy and political science double major Haley Shultz ’21 talks with public policy Prof. Anne Douds about her Kolbe Fellowship.

Seek out guidance

It is worth noting that deciding on your major does not have to be a decision you make alone. Gettysburg College prides itself on maintaining a robust advising program, from formal departmental advisors, who can help guide your academic career, to more informal advisors, such as a coach or job supervisor, who might be able to help you navigate personal struggles. As long as you are connected to Gettysburg, you will have an advisor here to help you! When asked about his experience with advising, Daniel Jones ’22 shared, “the relationships you make at Gettysburg College are what make the experience what it is—and this starts with your advisors. Just by simply reaching out and getting to know my advisors outside of the classroom is what allowed me to join the Eisenhower Institute, conduct and present linguistics research, become a club president just in my first year here!”

For most of you, your first-year advisor, and the person who will remain with you until you formally declare a major, will be your First-Year Seminar professor. You will have the chance to work closely with this faculty member and develop a professional and more often than not, personal relationship, which makes it easier to discuss important academic decisions with them about what major(s) or minor(s) might best suit you.

Student working with Professor on research in a science lab
An environmental studies major works with Prof. Suvrajit Sengupta on x-sig research in the lab.

Have an open mind

As a student whose interests changed during their first year at college, my advice to you is this: be open to the possibility of exploring new ideas and interests at school. Before coming to Gettysburg, I thought I wanted to be a political science major and end up on Capitol Hill one day. However, my exposure to both the economics and public policy departments helped me discover new passions—particularly for studying the economic impact community-based arts programs have in their towns.

Take the time to ask questions and connect with professors, peers, and professional staff on-campus: some of these people will inevitably become mentors to you. The relationship you begin to build now will help steer both your academic and personal life—in many cases, helping you to decide on an academic field of study. Your undergraduate years can be some of the most impactful years in your career as a young professional and help set you up for success on whatever path you may take in life.

Learn more about academic advising at Gettysburg College.

By Logan Grubb ’21
Photos by Miranda Harple and Shawna Sherrell
Posted: 12/08/20