By Eileen Ly                         

Choosing a major can be one of the toughest things you’ll ever do in your life, and it can be stressful. I know because I was in that position as an undeclared in the life sciences major here at UC Davis. There were too many things I was indecisive about. The only thing I knew was that I loved learning about biology.

I liked learning about the evolution and anatomy of animals and plants.  But I felt as if I hadn’t looked at the material in depth enough to know what I would truly like. What specific aspect did I really like about science when there were so many things I seemed to like? What did I want to spend my life doing? What major would make college seem the most fun?

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I just had so many questions: What major should I have? What do I really enjoy doing? What if I want to do a double major? What minors are offered?  What kind of courses will I be taking? How good are the professors? How will that give me a financially stable career?

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It took a lot of decision making and research before I choose cell biology as my major during my sophomore year. Nonetheless, with smart decision making, choosing a major doesn’t have to be stressful. 

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From my personal experiences, I’ll be giving you some helpful advice on declaring your major/ switching majors. 

Here’s my checklist of things to look out for. Keep in mind that you can tweak it to your liking, or add new things. Also, start from GENERAL TO SPECIFIC in your decision making.

1. Gauge yourself honestly. What subjects do you love? What subjects do you hate? What subjects do you do the best in? What kind of learner are you? Are you a tactile, visual, or auditory learner? Some majors require a lot of fieldwork or lab work.

  • You can take career/personality tests online, but be aware of how accurate they can be. Don’t let your parents or peers or a test stop you from being honest with yourself. Rather use them to your advantage. Only you know yourself the best!

2. Browse by personal interest.  Look through the different courses offered in the course catalog. What does UC Davis have to offer you?

  • Read the descriptions of the upper-division courses. (I say upper division because that’s where the “meat” of your major is.) Does any of the material sound interesting to you? Would you want to learn more about the material?  

3. Browse by career/academic interest. How does the major fit in with your future career? Is the major popular? How many units do you need to fulfill the major? Majors with 80-100 units make it hard to do a double major, but it’s do-able with really careful planning. How many years will you be in college? 

  • Look at an example four-year college plan.  Will it allow you to take another major/minor? Does the major offer you extensive research and internship opportunities? What kind of professors are teaching? How well do they teach? What research do they do? Are any of them famous?

4. Once you’re at UC Davis, talk to students in the major, or take some courses. Simply, people are the best resources in life. They offer a perspective you can’t gain from reading the catalog or browsing the major departments. Ask them about majors you might be interested in, from class difficulty to academic workload. How do you meet them? Try joining some clubs and making small talk. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and if you’re shy, know you’re doing it for your academic future. People at Davis are really friendly and talkative for the most part.

  • Before you declare a major, you can actually start taking lower- division classes in that major to see if you’d like the major. Taking some lower division classes in the major also will open your perspective into what the major has to offer academically. Example: “I’m a political science major, but I’m taking biology classes because I want to switch into science.” DO THIS ONLY IF YOU’RE REALLY INTERESTED/HAVE ROOM IN YOUR SCHEDULE!

5. If you still don’t know what your future career will be, attend career workshops/ talk to professionals. The Intern and Career Center offers a lot of helpful advice in this area, with a whole page dedicated to career decisions. Make use of it!

6. Set a four-year plan!  Keep in mind the 225-unit cap, and the General Education courses you’ll need to take. This four-year plan doesn’t have to be exact, as things can and will change on you as you discover more about your classes (like which professors you want to avoid or if you’re studying abroad).

  • Go to your adviser for helpful resources. Advisers get paid for a reason! They usually have an updated list about which professors are going to teach, or whether the course will be offered in the fall, winter or spring.

7. Declare your major or minor.  For undeclared majors, you need only one signature from a major adviser. But if you’re switching from major to major, you’ll need two signatures: one from your old major adviser, and one from your new major adviser. Most minors take around 20 -22 units, and not all departments offer them. People tend to declare minors around their junior or senior year. You need a minor petition to turn in before the deadline for graduation. 

8. Take a deep breath, enjoy your courses and keep an eye open for any changes to your major plans. Remember to relax. All this planning shouldn’t go to waste, and chances are plans will change, as courses get moved around. So enjoy your courses, while being aware that changes can happen to your schedule.

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Whether you’re a high school senior declaring a major for your college application or a college junior switching majors, be sure to consider your academic and personal strengths, and future ambitions in forming a good college plan. Planning your schedule will always be an ongoing process during your time in college. Get help early, and happy searching to all of you!

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If you have any other questions, or personal tips of your own that I’ve missed, please FEEL FREE TO SUBMIT THEM TO US! 

Photo caption for UC Davis home page: From left, psychology major Chris Ubando talks about understanding performance in a drama class; Hannah Curran, a civil engineering major, takes the Y.O.L.O handcycle for a spin; and animal science major Jacob Gomez is preparing for a career in dairy science. Karin Higgins and Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis photos