Some students arrive at Tufts knowing what they want to major in, but many more spend the first few years exploring their options.
What is a major, anyway? Your major is an area of study that you focus on while pursuing your degree. Somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the courses you’ll take in college will be in your major or related to it.
No matter your major, it’s all the courses you’ll take combined that will provide you with experience exploring issues, ideas, and methods across the humanities and the arts, and the natural and social sciences. You will learn to think critically and communicate effectively both in writing and speaking.
It’s not the major that gets you the job. Employers are most interested in the skills, abilities, knowledge and character traits you develop throughout your education experience – both inside and outside the classroom!
You can always speak with a career advisor if you feel confused about how your major may impact your future career options.
Your choice of major does not dictate your career choices. Unless you are planning to enter a technical field, such as engineering or accounting, you can obtain the skills necessary to succeed through any of the 100+ majors offered at Tufts. In addition, taking the time to explore different careers will enable you to make better decisions when applying to internships, job opportunities, or graduate schools.
Myths About Majors
- Myth: Only certain majors are practical when it comes to finding a job.
Reality: Employers are more interested in your skills and experience than in any specific major. Liberal arts graduates are valued for their ability to assemble and understand new information, come to reasonable and timely conclusions, and communicate effectively. The analytical, communications, and interpersonal expertise you learn from a liberal arts background is an asset to all employers.
- Myth: If I want to go to law school, or medical school, I have fewer choices of what to major in.
Reality: There is no required major for law school or medical school. Your ability to think analytically and communicate clearly will be important for law and medicine.
There is no “pre-med major” at Tufts, or any other selective college or university. Medical and other health professions schools look for a well-balanced college program, and do not favor one major over another. Statistically, biology majors comprise at least half of the applicant pool but they have a slightly lower rate of admission than many other majors, including many non-science majors. In fact, some admissions officers may be more interested in someone who has majored in a non-science area with a strong record in premedical requirements. Student Services has pre-law and pre-health advisors to discuss further the requirements for law school and medical school.
- Myth: Majoring in engineering will limit me to working only in engineering.
Reality: As more aspects of everyday life become technologically based, engineering skills and expertise are more valuable than ever in a variety of fields. Technical expertise is an asset in bridging the information gap between engineering and non-engineering worlds. Quantitative skills are applicable in a wide variety of occupational areas. Tufts Engineering majors have pursued careers in technical writing, finance, law, and medicine.
Tips for Choosing a Major
You will excel at a major if you select a subject area that you enjoy studying.
Ask yourself: Which classes have you liked so far? Are there others that you are curious about?
Selecting a major and selecting a career are not the same thing. Some students who major in the arts or humanities decide to pursue careers in business or any number of other fields. Once you find a major you would enjoy, focus on developing skills applicable to a variety of careers.
- Develop Transferable Skills
Beyond the skills you will gain in any major at Tufts, employers value skills that you develop outside the classroom. You should consider participating in internships, volunteer service, and extracurricular activities. We discuss this in more detail in Explore Skills & Interests.
- Further Exploration
- Review What Can I Do With This Major? to explore career options and advice in a variety of majors.
Check out the websites of Tufts academic departments for find information on majoring in that discipline, courses offered, and faculty.
- Get advice from your advising dean. Deans are assigned using the first letter of your last name.
- Talk with faculty about majors within their discipline.
- Talk to current students who are majoring in the discipline that interests you. Ask them about what they like and dislike about their major, the requirements, and their favorite courses.
- Tufts alumni can provide helpful perspectives on Tufts majors and their applications in the world of work or in a particular graduate program. Try connecting with an alumni volunteer in The Herd, our flash mentoring database.
- Review What Can I Do With This Major? to explore career options and advice in a variety of majors.
- Set Up Career Conversations (a.k.a. Informational Interviews)
A career conversation or informational interview is a self-initiated chat with someone who knows about a job, major, or any number of other topics.
Conversations with alumni, upperclassmen, and others can help you determine what major might be a good fit for you. As you reach out to alumni, fellow students, and others to discuss your interests, as well as listen to their insights about potential majors and career paths, you are beginning the process of building a professional network. It is never too early to start networking.
As you get started, keep these things in mind:
- These conversations should be fun. You are asking questions to gain an insider’s view of a major. This is a short discussion, not something that should intimidate you.
- Start by asking your friends about their majors, and ask them for additional names of other people in their classes. It is good to get a variety of opinions so you can see many sides of the same story.
- To prepare, draw up a list of potential contacts. These contacts can be personal friends, relatives, fellow students, as well as Tufts alumni.
- The Tufts University Career Network on LinkedIn is a useful source of information. As is The Herd, our flash mentoring database, where advisors have actively expressed an interest in serving as a resource for Tufts students.
Sample questions about majors:
- Why did you choose your major?
- What skills have you gained with this major?
- What are some of the possible team projects in this major?
- What does your four-year schedule look like? Are there courses offered only certain years or semesters? (In which case you would need to plan carefully, especially regarding studying abroad.)
- Do you regret choosing this major?
- What do you want to do after you graduate? (For alumni: How did your major relate to the career you pursued)?
- Who are the most interesting professors and classes you took?
- Is there anyone else with whom I should speak for additional information?
- Are there any books or websites that you suggest?
In addition to identifying your VIPS (Values, Interests, Personality and Skills) and exploring majors, you will need to research possible careers. The more you know about various career paths, the easier it will be to find internships and jobs, or decide to apply to graduate school.
We encourage you to see a Career Advisor to discuss ways to explore your career options. You can also gather plenty of information at the various career fairs, employer presentations and alumni career and networking programs we hold throughout the year.
- Explore Careers through Networking
Experienced professionals can share advice about industries, companies, required skills you will need, and connect you with resources for potential internship and job opportunities. One of the best ways to find people who can help you like this is to network.
As you conduct research and discover careers that match your skills and interests, The Herd, the Tufts University Career Network and other Tufts groups on LinkedIn are valuable resources. If you aren’t sure what to ask, or how to begin this conversation, we can help with advice on career conversations (a.k.a. informational interviews) and networking.
Additionally, Tufts subscribes to resources to assist you in learning about industries and jobs. As you explore each career field through networking and the many links below, ask yourself:
- Can I see myself working in this particular career area?
- Does it match with my interests as well as I had anticipated?
- Will it afford me the lifestyle I seek?
- Does it use my top skills and match my top values and personal strengths?
- Important Considerations
There are several things to take note of as you research industries and careers:
- Education and skill requirements – What educational background or specific skills does this industry typically require? Will you need a graduate degree to get a job?
- Typical positions – Where does an entry-level or experienced employee fit within this industry? How do responsibilities at entry level differ from more senior positions?
- Day-to-day job operations – What does a typical day look like for an employee in this industry? How do the roles of the various members of an organization differ within the industry?
- Industry trends and developments – What is the future of this industry? Is it expanding? What are the trends?
- Personality traits/experiences valued by the field – What particular traits are necessary to be successful? Are there shared experiences that many of the people in this field have?
- Salary information – What type of salary can you anticipate, given your education and experience level? What is the salary range for the field as you progress?
- Hiring cycles and recruiting practices – When and how does the industry hire? Does this industry recruit on campus? Some industries have unique recruiting practices, and it is important to note these as you learn about them. For example, engineering, finance and consulting companies tend to recruit during the fall semester, while non-profits generally tend to hire later in the spring. Carefully research the hiring timelines for your targeted industries.
- Geographic location – Are opportunities in your desired field primarily located in a specific area of the country or world? Would you be happy living there?
- Resources Especially for Jumbos
- What Can I Do With This Major? This site helps you to connect specific majors to a variety of career options and learn about strategies for building experience inside and outside of the classroom.
- APSIA Guides – Descriptions of 37 career paths in international affairs.
- The Tisch Library Research Guides provide extensive industry and company information. Specifically, you can:
- Browse alphabetically by academic subject to find related career information and current news. This is especially useful as you seek to explore a major or a potential career.
- Access Company and Industry databases. Sources include LexisNexis and Factiva (which has foreign language news pages and content). Both these as well as OneSource Global and EMIS allow you to screen for companies by industry and country.
- Use LexisNexis to review news, trends, and other information on 80 million companies including competitor data (useful as you apply to jobs or prepare for interviews.)
- The following resource can only be accessed through the Career Center Resources menu in Handshake. Log in to Handshake, click on “Career Center” in the top nav, select “Resources” and then “Career Resources for Students & Alumni.”
- Additional Online Research Tools
- O*NET – One of the nation’s primary sources of occupational information from the US Department of Labor. Search occupations by skills and interests, as well as educational paths. Under the Crosswalks/Educational Crosswalks link, search your major or prospective major’s code here to learn about connected careers.
- My Next Move – Another U.S. Department of Labor resource, which provides three separate ways to narrow career options: by keyword, by industry and by using the O*NET Interest Profiler.
- CareerOne Stop Toolkit – Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. Information about occupations, industries, and more.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook – Learn about hundreds of occupations and the educational paths and experiences that lead to them.
- Industry-specific publications – There are a number to follow such as Businessweek, Engineering News Record, Nonprofit Times, Poets & Writers, Bloomberg, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Advertising Age, Fortune, Backstage, and Fastcompany.com.
- Industry lists – Some organizations that maintain “Top Places to Work” lists, rankings, and more include Glassdoor, Crain’s New York Business, Hoovers, Working Mother, and Forbes. Quintcareers has an extensive list of other ranking resources.
- The MUSE – Information on all aspects of careers and companies.
- Wall Street Journal Careers – A fabulous site for career trends, job search advice, salary information and career-related insight. Some articles are subscriber-only.
- ASAE – (American Society of Association Executives) Locate professional associations within your field of interest.
- Company/organization web sites – Most organizations have robust text and video information about their companies, career paths, and other details under a Careers, About Us, or Contact Us sections. Also be sure to read the News and Events sections, as you’ll find upcoming activities and recent press releases from organizations.
- Social media – Many organizations have pages/feeds on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, where they share unique information and even job postings. Make sure your online presence is professional before you start connecting with employers through these sites. LinkedIn is particularly helpful to learn about where employees of the company have worked before, and to see if any alumni from the university are (or have been) employed there.
- Google News Alerts – Search for mentions of the organization in the news, and set up a news alert so you’ll find out about updates quickly.
Once you have narrowed down your list of possible fields to a few areas of interest, try them out. Extracurricular activities, volunteering, internships and part-time jobs will help you build experience and skills. Be sure to update your resume with these experiences.
Remember that the decisions you make today will not define your entire career. So go ahead and focus on the experiences you would like to gain over the next couple of years. The Tufts Career Center is a lifelong resource for you.