Finding an Alternative Major (Major Exploration Series)

Amber Wang – March 15th, 2017

This blog post is part of the Major Exploration Series, which will be featuring more major-related posts that will be published throughout the months of March and April 2017.

For most students, finding a major can create its own fair share of stress in college. For some, what can be even more frustrating than this is finding a major that appeals to them but not receiving acceptance into the school or program that offers it. At UVA, there are many majors that do not require a selective process in order to declare them, and there are some majors or tracks that do (i.e. Commerce in the McIntire School of Commerce, Public Policy and Leadership in the Batten School, etc.). Whether or not you receive acceptance into your first choice major programs, it is a wise course of action to plan for alternative majors that can help you get onto the career path that you want. Check out the three steps to finding the best alternative majors for you!

Reflect and Redirect

Whether or not you have received news about the status of your application, it can be helpful to prepare yourself with some alternative majors as backup options. If you have received news that you might not have been expecting about the program you applied to, you should, first and foremost, allow yourself to process the information. Take a few days to sort through your emotions. If you are feeling disappointed, acknowledge those feelings. Making sure you take the time to do all of this will help you to feel more ready and focused to find alternate majors that will get you to your desired career path.

Once you have taken the necessary time to process the news, you can now reflect on what you hope to get out of your undergraduate experience and how you want it to prepare you for the career(s) that you want. It is important to note that not getting into your first choice major does not, in any way, bar you from reaching your career goals. For example, it is still possible to go into the business industry even if you are not a student of the McIntire School; the “Comm School” is just one out of many ways that can prepare you for a career in business. As Tiffani Kennedy, one of our Career Peer Educators, wisely points out, “We must steadfastly hold on to the distinction between rejection and redirection.”

Rather than falling into the trap of thinking that all your career options have disappeared, try thinking about the reasons why you wanted to get into your first choice major in the first place. Is it because you enjoy the subject material that would be covered in the program? Is it because you think it is the necessary track to go on in order to get a certain career? Is it because you think this particular major or track would be more economical than others (i.e. might yield a higher salary than other majors)? After you consider your original intentions, you are ready for the search component of this process.

Research Your Options

Understandably, the word “research” might sound like a lot of work, which might be the last thing on your mind especially after putting so much effort into your application materials for your first choice program. However, choosing an alternative major is every bit as important a step as choosing your first choice major, which means you should strive to put in the same amount of care and consideration into this process, if not more.

Think back to the reasons that you have brainstormed as to why you wanted your first choice major initially. If you chose your first choice major program because...

  • You enjoy the subject material that would be covered: Try looking over the list of majors that UVA offers to find departments that can cover similar themes. For example, if you initially wanted to major in Neuroscience, why not consider browsing through the Biology, Psychology, or Cognitive Science department websites to see if one or more of them could also be a good fit? You can also consider choosing a different type of major but continue to take classes in courses related to your first choice program each semester. Additionally, you can also check to see if there are any organizations around Grounds that can provide you the exposure to similar material or experiences (i.e. for Neuroscience, consider joining a science or health oriented CIO or getting involved in research at the hospitals nearby).

  • You think it is the necessary track to getting a certain career: At the UVA Career Center, we like to emphasize that major does not equal career. Do some Googling or asking around of people who have career paths similar to what you are interested in. For many careers, you will find people oftentimes don’t have the conventional majors you might assume to obtain the positions they hold. Instead, it is usually about the experiences and skills that they can bring to the table, which you can earn in spite of the major you declare during undergrad.

  • You think it can yield a certain level of income: Thinking about your future salary is definitely a valid factor for your career path. In fact, there are many great websites, like glassdoor and O*NET Online, that can help you to see approximate compensation levels of  specific positions (i.e. HR Generalist). However, be sure you consider the importance and priority all the values you want from a career before allowing any one of them to convince you to dismiss a potential career opportunity. For help in evaluating what your values and interests are, see a career counselor during office hours!

Talk to Someone

Choosing a major is a challenging process, and you should not have to go through it alone if you don’t have to. UVA offers a lot of different kinds of advisors for you to go to for support. If you are feeling stuck in your major selection process or if you want a second opinion of what you have so far, consider visiting your:

  • Academic advisor: Some students might hesitate in seeing their advisors because they aren’t sure how they can help them. You may feel this way because your advisor’s area of expertise/interest doesn’t necessarily align with your own. However, in this situation, the best action is to still take a chance and just visit him/her. You don’t know what sorts of valuable information he/she can offer, especially in terms of how they can help you move forward with your current situation. Take the time to draw up a list of preliminary questions before meeting with your advisor to make the best use of both your times. If you aren’t sure who your academic advisor is, log into SIS and look under the second box in the sidebar under “Advisor.”

  • Association dean: Academic deans are some of the best resources to turn to when you are on the brink of making an important decision. They can provide you with information to think about you might not have considered or known. Your association dean usually depends on where you stay(ed) for your 1st year dorm; see this list for more information.

  • Career counselor(s): In terms of seeing how your major and undergraduate experience can translate into your professional development, there’s no better person to speak to than a career counselor. He/she can help you to discern what your values, skills, interests are and how they can line up with your major and career goals. There are also career counselors who specialize in specific industries that you might be interested in; check out the Career Communities page to see who they are and how they can help you get going on your desired career path!

For in person help about how to process changes in your major plans and how to choose alternative majors, visit a career counselor during open office hours in Newcomb 170, Mon - Fri from 12-5p. To schedule a one-hour long appointment with a career counselor, visit Handshake or call the Career Center at (434) 924-8900.

For More Information

Tiffani Kennedy: How I Chose My Interdisciplinary Major (Major Exploration Series) | UVA Career Center - See how Tiffani was able to forge her own unique major program after a major redirection during her undergraduate experience.

Rejected? Don't get mad, get motivated | USA Today College - Read Caroline’s story of triumph after she got rejected, not once, but twice from her dream program.

Majors & Careers | UVA Career Center - Many people think picking a major means picking a career, but a major is just one factor that can help determine your career path. Check out all the available resources we have regarding majors and careers.