How to Choose a Major … and Plan a Future

First year student Daniel Miller studying in the campus library.

First year student Daniel Miller had a general idea of what he might be interested in studying, but he wasn’t sure what specific major he wanted.

Jasmine Salton, a senior in education, had her major nearly completed, but still thought she could benefit from learning more about organizing her busy life and fine tuning study skills.

Both say they’ve benefited from the School of Education’s Educational Psychology 110 course – Planning Your Major and Career.

The goal of the three-credit course, which is open to all undergraduates, is to help students choose a major at UWM, but also helps them explore their interests, abilities and goals to choose a major that suits them.

“I knew I wanted to be somewhere in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) area,” says Miller, “but I didn’t know the major.” With the help of the course, which he took in the fall semester of 2021, he decided to major in mathematics, which gives him options in a number of career areas.

Salton, who works as a receptionist at the front desk of the Office of Student Services, as well as attending school, said the course helps juggle her multiple obligations.

“Students always ask to spend time on study strategies, planning, and time management,” said Vittoria Sipone, an Educational Psychology doctoral candidate who is one of two graduate student mentors for the course. “They really appreciate going over the resources UWM offers – mostly they ask about the Klotsche Center and the library.” The other graduate student mentor teaching assistant is Megan Herdt. They work with a team of Educational Psychology graduate students to teach the course.

Faculty mentors for the course are Nadya Fouad, university distinguished professor and Mary and Ted Kellner endowed chair of Educational Psychology, and Jacqueline Nguyen, associate professor of Educational Psychology. They offer a weekly class that provides pedagogical support and content knowledge to the teaching assistants.

Nadya Fouad & Jacqueline Nguyen, faculty members in the Department of Educational Psychology.

Nadya Fouad (L) & Jacqueline Nguyen (R)

Miller said he found tips like how to email a professor helpful as well as class discussions about mindsets and insecurities that can unconsciously limit career exploration. “Sometimes people think they’re not smart enough or the wrong gender for certain fields.”

Years of research have shown many undergraduates struggle in figuring out a major and a career. Fouad and her colleagues in their research have demonstrated the value of Ed Psych 110 and similar courses in helping students with these decisions.

For example, an article Fouad and colleagues wrote that is now in press for Career Development Quarterly showed that a 16-week career exploration course had a significant positive impact on decreasing students’ career indecision. This was based on data from 102 students who took the Ed Psych 110 course.