University Park

Students seek help in making educated decision about their future

University Park, Pa. -- Today it isn't uncommon for a student to start college without first choosing a field of study. Approximately 80 percent of students entering Penn State aren't entirely sure about their choice of major, according to the Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Penn State's enrollment program for students who want to explore their options before committing to a major. Tara Branigan of State College is one of more than 7,000 students in DUS at all of Penn State's undergraduate campuses. This fall she will be a sophomore at Penn State. She spent her freshman year exploring her academic options through DUS and Penn State's Career Services Center."I'm still unsure of my major but I am getting closer to figuring it out so I'm taking classes in the areas that interest me the most," she said. "Right now it's between business and communications so I'm talking to professors in both colleges about their fields, to help me decide. Everyone has been really helpful."According to Eric White, executive director of DUS, unlike 20 years ago, most universities today allow students to come into college without a chosen major, so they can better research who they are and what they want to do with their lives. At Penn State, students like Branigan have resources in DUS, the Career Services Center and even in the residence halls.Branigan is making the most of the all that Penn State offers for exploratory students. Last summer before her freshman year began, the Schreyer Honors College student met with her DUS academic advisor during the First-Year Testing, Consulting and Advising Program (FTCAP). There they laid out a plan for her first year that included taking required general education courses that best fit her interests, engaging in online computer test that help match her abilities and hone in on her interests, using Career Services to see the various careers that relate to each major she is considering and setting goals to see where she wants to be by graduation. And by the end of her fourth semester, after finishing the allotted four semesters allowed to be enrolled in DUS, Branigan will be required to choose her major. "My brother didn't have a major when he first started at Penn State so I already knew that DUS and Career Services were there to help me choose my career path," Branigan said. "He's in broadcast journalism right now and is really happy. I have friends who wish they had gone through DUS because they've already switched their majors once and still aren't sure what they want to do.""About 92 percent of students in DUS don't change their minds once they choose a major and move into the appropriate college," said White. "And students who started at Penn State with a major but have since changed their minds can still transfer into DUS to aid in making an educated decisions about their future."  Jack Rayman, director of Career Services at Penn State said that the big difference between his office and DUS is that Career Services shows students the plethora of  career options they can have, based on what they studied in school."The choice of a major is a very small part of what you will do with your career life," he said. "Of course, some majors have direct linkages, like computer science, accounting or computer programming, but take sociology -- it's unlikely everyone in this major will be a sociologist. A bachelor of arts degree is not as specific as a degree in engineering or accounting. There is a whole range of majors that don't have direct linkages to specific careers so our goal is to help you understand who you are and what kind of work is out there for you."Rayman explains that an undergraduate degree is more about students finding out where their values and interests lie and what motivates and drives them. It should help students build a broad range of skills including critical thinking, communication skills and an appreciation for diversity. From there students can secure employment or go on to a professional school in law, medicine or business if they want more specific training.The Career Services Center has many tools for exploratory students. Individual career counseling is available for everyone. Trained counselors can assist students in a variety of ways, from major and career decisions, salary negotiations, job shadowing and internships to summer jobs, full-time jobs, graduate schools and more. Students who have not chosen a major can take a three-credit course called "Effective Career-Decision-Making (Counselor Education 100) that allows them to explore the working world, examine their values and strengths and work methods of researching information on careers. Career Services also offers online modules for students to implement on their own time. In addition, there is LionLink, is a networking program designed to help Penn State students connect with Penn State alumni working in the fields they wish to explore. Career Services also has an extensive career library and employment resource room for students to research majors, career options, internships and more.In addition to enrolling DUS and seeking assistance at the Career Services Center, Branigan also attended Career Services sponsored career fairs at the University to examine which fields are hiring recent college graduates. Her resident assistant hosted various career programs in her residence hall last year that explored a number of fields. Also, an alternative living option for exploratory students, on the fifth floor of Beaver Hall is Penn State's Discover House, a living-learning community for academic exploration. The Discover House offers innovative programs and advising to support students investigating academic majors and careers."Before I started at Penn State, I talked to a lot of people that told me if I wasn't sure what I wanted to study, it was best to explore, prior to choosing my major," said Branigan. "DUS and Career Services have really helped me to focus and it's been a really good experience." 

Credit: Greg Grieco / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 17, 2014