Mary Wood '06

Choose a major you love—you can always build your job skills on the side through an extracurricular activity or job. Mary Wood BA English, MA English '06; Chief Communications Officer at the University of Virginia School of Law

 Choosing a major and/or career path can feel like a heavy decision to make. It is important to know what's involved in a career choice and that decision making includes both knowing and doing. Here, you will be introduced to knowing and led through doing in order to make a more informed decision.

Before making a career choice, evaluate what you know about yourself, your options, how you make decisions, and how you think about your decision making.

Knowing Yourself Knowing Your Options How Do You Make Decisions?
values
interests
skills
programs of study/majors
UVA activities
occupations
internships and jobs
agonizing
delaying
impulsive
intuitive
fatalistic
paralytic
rational
compliant

Thinking About Your Decision-Making

Avoid negative self-talk

Be aware of your approach to decision making and listen to your self-talk for words like always, never, and should. Using these absolute terms can make it hard to move forward. Examples of negative self-talk include:

  • “I’ll never be able to choose a major that I like.”
  • “If I choose this major I can never do this as a career.”
  • “I’m not a math person, so I can’t major in psychology because I would have to take statistics.”

Reframing negative self-talk

You can restate or reframe the negative self-talk above into more helpful phrases. For example:

  • “If I find majors that match my interests and skills, I’ll find an option I will enjoy.”
  • “Math is not my strength, but I can talk to the psychology advisor about the kind of math required for statistics before I exclude it as a major.”
  • “If I choose this major that I enjoy, I can obtain an internship that is relevant to my future career aspirations.”

How to Make Good Decisions

Using a step-by-step decision-making process usually leads to better results. The steps shown below can help you engage in the decision-making process and can be repeated as you make future career choices. They are intended to be action-oriented and tailored to your unique needs. 

Christine Milton '13

Life is full of choices. Choose what you love and be prepared to work harder for what you want, or choose what you think is best and be prepared to handle regret. Christine Milton Sociology '13; Financial Analyst

  1. ENGAGE, or knowing you need to make a choice, is a unique experience for everyone. Whether course registration deadlines are approaching or your friends and relatives are asking questions, now is your opportunity to identify some of the factors influencing your career decision.
  2. UNDERSTAND, or understanding yourself and your options means learning more about yourself by identifying values, interests, and skills that are important to you. Becoming familiar with your options incorporates an understanding of majors and occupations in relation to the world of work.
  3. EXPLORE, or expanding and narrowing your list of options, involves creating a list of several opportunities that fit your values, interests, and skills. Then, narrow that list by picking 3-5 options using what you learned from the “Understand” step of the cycle.
  4. EVALUATE, or choosing a major or career, includes weighing the costs and benefits of each option, ranking them, and then making a decision. At this point, an alternative or back-up choice can also be evaluated in case you encounter obstacles with your initial choice.
  5. ACT, or implementing your choice, takes time and effort to specify unique action steps to execute your chosen plan for education or training and to futher confirm your choice.
  6. REFLECT/EVALUATE, or knowing you made a good choice, means looking back at your initial goals and thinking about what you have accomplished, including noting the reactions of others and your own thoughts and feelings about your decisions. Notice that you have returned back to STEP 1, “ENGAGE,” to make your next career decisions. You always repeat the process when changing your choice.