Determining an Academic Focus for Your First Year

Choosing an academic degree and major is one of the most significant decisions that you will make in college. Consequently, students (and often their families) spend a great amount of time weighing options, considering skills and strengths, and trying to predict the job market. Not surprisingly, making the “right” choice about a major can be a source of considerable stress.

All CWRU students must declare a major before registering for their fifth semester. Many declare a major by the end of their first or beginning of their second year. However, students frequently change their majors and sometimes add majors or minors based upon their evolving interests. There is no “normal” process—it is unique to every individual.

I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

It is very common for students to be uncertain at this stage in their lives. Hopefully you can take comfort in the fact that the academic degree you choose in college does not lock you into a particular career for the rest of your life. Obviously, certain careers (accountants, doctors, computer programmers) require very specific sets of knowledge and expertise; however, that is not always the case and as such you don’t need to worry about choosing the “wrong” major. Students typically choose their majors based on a combination of personal values, interests, skills, and goals. Reflecting on these things is extremely important as you explore and evaluate your options.

How do I choose the path that is best for me?

Determining your academic and career interests is a process. You are more likely to feel confident about your decisions if you are active in the process, keep an open mind, and avail yourself of the many resources available. The exploration process comprises individual reflection and assessment, research, discussion, and perhaps even job shadowing and internships. Case Western Reserve University has a wealth of opportunities, events, services, and faculty and staff dedicated to assist students with the exploration process.

Whether you’re committed to a major, exploring widely, or somewhere in between, there are numerous resources available to help you investigate, evaluate, and reach your goals:

If you are fairly certain of your academic interests:

  • Refer to the list of majors and minors to identify your major(s) and determine which general education requirements correspond to that major.
  • Review the SAGES general education curriculum and first-year schedule development recommendations for that major.
  • If possible, develop a schedule that allows you to test your academic interests and also explore new topics.
  • Discuss your interests with your first-year advisor to verify that you have selected appropriate courses to meet those goals.

If you have a few ideas about your academic interests but are still deciding:

  • Follow the suggested steps above for students who are fairly certain, but do this for all majors of interest.
  • Look specifically for courses common to all or most of your majors of interest.
  • If possible, select one or two topics of interest and look for courses that will allow you to test those interests.
  • Discuss your interests with your first-year advisor to verify that you have selected courses appropriate to address your interests.

If you are still exploring your academic interests:

  • Review the schedule development recommendations for first-year students exploring academic options and the SAGES general education curriculum.
  • Review the fall 2017 course offerings listed in this guide. Virtually all of the courses on the list can be used as general education curriculum requirements.
  • Try a course that you know nothing about, that is in a subject you were interested in during high school, or that corresponds to a possible major/career interest.
  • Talk with your first-year advisor about your academic interests and skills, and verify that the courses you have selected allow you to explore your interests and meet academic requirements.
  • Use the resources listed on this page and throughout the FYR guide to engage actively in the exploration process.