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Penn StateMajor Decisionsfor students who are exploring majors
Who are you?

magnifying glass Choosing a major should really start with knowing who you are. Think about your personal characteristics (interests, abilities, values, personality, and motivations) and keep these in mind as you make your decision about a major.

You may want to write down your answers to these questions and share them with your adviser.

1. What are your interests?

Think about the kinds of things that you enjoy. Here are a few questions to get you started.
  • What activities do you participate in just for fun?
  • What kinds of shows do you like to watch on TV?
  • What do you enjoy reading or talking about?
  • What courses did you like the most in high school?
  • When you fantasize about a career, what do you think you would enjoy doing or being?
  • What other things are you interested in?
  • What kinds of activities are you not interested in, and why?
Don't underestimate how important your interests can be when choosing a major. Imagine not being interested in a subject and studying it in depth for four years or more. Would you be interested in the course work required in a particular major?


2. What are your abilities?

Here are a few sample questions to help you think about your abilities, skills, and talents (the things you're good at doing).
  • How do your SAT scores and high school grades compare to those of other students?
  • How have others judged your abilities in the past?
  • Have you won academic honors, or awards for excellence in art, music, debate, sports, or other performance areas?
  • Do you seem to have a natural talent for helping other people, working with numbers, influencing others, solving problems, using your hands, organizing events, or other activities?
  • How good are your study skills?
  • What other abilities do you think you have?
Do you have the ability to be successful in the course work required in a particular major?


3. What are your values?

Think about what's really important to you—the values and principles that guide your life. How would you answer these questions?
  • Are your decisions and choices in life influenced by certain religious, spiritual, philosophical, moral, or ethical beliefs and teachings?
  • Where do you stand politically on various issues?
  • How important is it for you to help others or serve your community?
  • Is making a lot of money really important to you, or would you be satisfied with just making a “comfortable” living?
  • Would you rather save the rain forests or cut them down? Why?
  • Would it be easy for you to cheat on an exam because you think it's “no big deal”?
  • When faced with a moral dilemma, do you always “do the right thing,” even if it's difficult for you?
  • Could you work in a job that promotes unethical, illegal, immoral, or unhealthy activities?
  • What place does a family have in your future?
  • What other things are really important to you?
  • How would you summarize your personal values?
How would you feel if your values didn't match with a particular major or career you were considering?


4. What is your personality?

Think about your emotions, behaviors, and ways of thinking. Here are some questions to help you assess your personality traits.
  • Are you outgoing or shy?
  • Are you assertive or passive?
  • Do you seek out excitement or peace and quiet?
  • Are you open to new experiences or do you avoid them?
  • Are you chronically late or always on time?
  • Are you anxious and nervous or usually relaxed?
  • Do you act impulsively or do you take your time to make decisions?
  • Are you patient and understanding or do you lose your temper easily?
  • Do you like being the center of attention or blending in with the crowd?
  • How would other people (family, friends, teachers) describe you?
  • How else would you describe your personality?
If you're shy and introverted, how would you feel about having to work in groups or give a speech to a roomful of people? If you're impatient, would you be able to work with young children? If you like to take your time to make decisions, how would you react to tight deadlines?

Personality traits may not be easy to change. Does your personality match with the majors and careers you're considering?


5. What are your motivations?

Ask yourself what's motivating you to consider certain majors.
  • Are you motivated mostly by your interests, your abilities, your values, your personality, or by something else?
  • Are outside pressures from family, friends, or the job market influencing your decisions?
  • Are you considering a major just because you think it will be easy?
  • Are you thinking about choosing a major because somebody else said you “should”?
  • Are you considering only majors that you think will lead to good jobs and a lot of money?
  • What else is motivating you?
Would your motivation be strong enough to allow you to succeed in a major even if your other characteristics seemed to go against that major?


The Realities

Now that you've considered your personal characteristics, consider what the realities are that may influence your choice of major.
  • Do your interests, abilities, values, personality, and motivations conflict with each other or are they in agreement? (Sometimes students are very interested in a major but find that they don't have the abilities to handle the required courses. On the other hand, some students have strong abilities in a particular area but don't have any real interest in studying that topic. And sometimes students have both interests and abilities in a major but aren't willing to risk four or more years of time and money if they believe it's unlikely they'll find a job in that area.)
  • Will you be able to meet entrance-to-major requirements on time, especially for majors with administrative enrollment controls?
  • How much extra time will it take you to graduate if you've already completed many credits that can't be applied to the major you choose?
  • Does Penn State offer the major(s) you're interested in, or would you have to transfer to another school?
  • Can you afford to pay for four or five years of college, or only two years?
  • What other realities are you facing?
Consider these and any other realities that may make a significant difference to you. Is your choice of major a realistic one?


Major Decisions - for students who are exploring majors
  Revised March 12, 2010
  Written and created by Michael J. Leonard, Division of Undergraduate Studies
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