Prep Talk Blog > September 2009

Truth: It is easy to fall into this mindset as many large colleges do offer a wide range of courses and majors. However, if you’re really uncertain about your major, you should look for a college that offers the core classes first. Often times a large college might not be the fit for you.

Talking with an academic advisor can really help you nail down specific career paths of interest to you. Regardless of the college’s size, keep in mind that different colleges have vastly different career counseling programs, so it makes sense to talk to the academic advisement department when you visit a college that interests you. On the other hand, at some colleges, faculty members do all the advising. Still other colleges use a combination of the two. Regardless of what kind of advising your college of choice may offer, strong advising can help you explore your options and give you direction when locating the major that fits you.

If you don’t know what you want to major in before enrolling in college, focus on your core classes first. Regardless of a college’s size, focusing on core classes allows offers college students a chance to explore many career options, while still meeting the requirements needed to graduate. This is an excellent way to see what various career fields are like without wasting time or credits doing so. Keep in mind that at most colleges, the degree programs have classes students must take in order to obtain a major, so you have an opportunity to see what the career field is like before declaring your major. 

Do your homework before you declare

According to Miami University student, Emily Stewart, there are several things you can do to begin finding a major that fits you. From making lists to reviewing informational packets from various majors within the college, Stewart offers some helpful tips to begin the search.

From choosing a major in a field you’re not interested in to selecting a career path only because of it’s earning potential, here’s a list of 13 mistakes students make when selecting a major.

Finding it hard to even being thinking about choosing a major? This video from offers you some advice on what to do during the first two years of college. Check out these tips on choosing a major while in college.

If you’re wondering what major would be the best fit for you, offers an extensive list of questions to get you started. Check out this list of factors to considering when choosing a major.

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College freshman Hannah Holmes shares her first impressions of college and gives readers advice on how to avoid getting overwhelmed:

Walking onto my college campus for the first time felt surreal. Since my junior year, I’d been wondering, worrying, and waiting for college. But for all the hours of thought I’d put into it, I really had no idea what to expect. I think that was what had me the most freaked out over the last few weeks before college.

Somehow, it wasn’t nearly as hard as I expected. There was no explosion, no earthquake; my life did not drastically alter in an instant. Well, I guess in a way it did, but there was no pain associated with it. By the time my parents left, I was ready for them to, even though I’d been anxious about that moment for a long time. I was through with all of the lasts I’d been going through at home; last time spending a Monday afternoon with this friend, last time taking my dog on a walk with my dad, last time…. fill in the blank. But once I got on campus, the firsts began. First meal in the cafeteria, first night in my dorm, first time meeting this person, first time walking to class… It was exciting, an adventure. I guess I was pleasantly surprised, but maybe it’s hard to be surprised at all when you don’t know what to expect.

I was worried about making friends. I realized after my first few minutes on campus that that was silly. I was in a place surrounded by thousands of people around my age, with a million different interests. We’re all pretty much trapped here together, more or less, with no one but each other for company. There’s always someone to talk to, and who knows if it will be a friendship that lasts through the hour until my next class or through graduation?

I was worried about being homesick. Of course, I am sometimes. I miss my mom’s cooking, I miss being with my family, I miss little bits and pieces of the life I led for eighteen years. However, at the same time, I’m very much enjoying this new stage of my life. I talk to my parents everyday- most of the other freshman I talk to do, too. Everyone’s a little homesick.  Although, my college kept us too busy during orientation to think about it much. It was a whirlwind of meetings, classes, icebreakers, projects, and introductions to the college lifestyle. It got a little old after the first couple of days, but I would definitely encourage anyone to try and get us much out of their Orientation as they can, whatever it’s like. It’s sure to be a fantastic opportunity to meet people (who may be as sick of orientation stuff as you) and figure out how to get involved on campus, which can be a little overwhelming at first. Remember, everyone either is in the same boat as you or has been in the not too distant past (other than your professors, of course).

For me, getting used to college has been mostly about perspective, the good old glass-half-full vs. glass-half-empty mentality. If you focus on all the difficult things that happen, like how you got lost going to your first class, and you can’t work the code on your mailbox, and you have way more reading to do than is physically possible, you’ll probably lose your mind and everything will very quickly start to seem very overwhelming. But if you focus on the good things, like how you got out of that lab early, or chilled with your suitemates for an hour in their room, or how pleasant the long walk to that class is, you start to see that college life is kind of fun, and you can balance work and having a good time and enjoy this unique new time in your life.  

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The most important factor in college admissions is the strength of your academics. That means more than just grades; it also takes into account the rigor of the classes you took. Straight A's in bowling and finger painting aren't going to get you into Yale. Often times, getting a B in a hard class looks better than getting an easy A. Admissions officers are after applicants who challenge themselves by taking Advanced Placement classes.

Just how important are the APs in college admissions and why should you take them? These experts give their thoughts:

Robert Bardwell of "Guidance Office" says, "The score of the actual AP test is not as important as the fact that the student took the AP class and what grade he earned. This is particularly true for a senior whose test score will not even be seen by the admissions committee."
Dean Flagel at Not Your Average Admissions writes, "If you think a course will be so awfully difficult that not only will your grade go down in that course, but also in your other courses, you do need to think about how much that will impact your overall admission chances ... You should try picking courses because they interest and challenge you, and not just to get into a school."
Babs at Campus Compare says, "The real end-goal of an AP course is to get college credit before you even apply to college. Sure, they look good, but you’ll also save possibly thousands of dollars and the boredom of taking 'Bio 101' or 'Intro to American History' with 300 of your “closest” friends."

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High school senior Olivia Duell will be blogging all fall about her college admissions experience. In this post, she writes about her summer job as an intern for United Way:

When I got the call from the United Way requesting a time for an interview, I was shocked. I had applied without much hope because I’d been sending resumes and applications to every place of business in the area, with no luck. I’d really been counting on scoring a camp counselor job, until I received a lovely letter of rejection in the mail. Scouring Craigslist every night had made me even more depressed, as I didn’t qualify for the majority of everything posted there. So basically, my plans for a summer job had been reduced to naught.

Then my mom sent me a link for an internship position hosted by the United Way. What was unique about it was that it was tailored for juniors entering their senior year, so I had an advantage. While reading more about the job, I figured out that the United Way would pair up candidates with a local organization. It sounded pretty great, until I read that only three were selected. I applied anyway, with just as many qualms as I’d had about applying to everything else; and now that it was almost July, businesses had already pretty much hired the hands they needed. This was my last shot.

So when I was informed that the United Way wanted to interview me, ME, for not only one position, but TWO positions, I was floored. I was being considered for placement at more than one local organization.  I couldn’t believe it. I was more than excited- that is until I started freaking out. This was my first job interview experience, ever. I really didn’t want to mess this opportunity up.

In the morning, my nerves hadn’t eased a bit. I drove to the United Way in a mad frenzy, worrying I’d be late. Turns out I arrived 20 minutes early, though that didn’t calm me down at all. I waited in the car for what seemed like ages (though really only 5 minutes), thinking through what I’d say, before I finally got out and went inside.

As I walked through the door, my mood changed. Sure, I was still tense when I was called into the interview room and had to shake hands with the three interviewers, but their attitudes put me at ease. They weren’t grilling me, they were smiling, and they didn’t seem like they wanted me to fail. I stopped mumbling incoherently and made eye-contact with these friendly people; it wasn’t so hard. In fact, it was easy. I just had to tell them why I wanted the job, and I already knew the answer to that question. I replied to what they asked the best I could, asked any questions about the job that I had myself, and didn’t forget to hand them my resume. Everybody still seemed happy when it was over; I left the room feeling more than confident. Two hours later they called, congratulating me on getting my first choice internship at the local branch of the Salvation Army.

I am now on my 6th and final week of my internship experience. As I inch closer to my last day, I feel sadder than I thought I’d be. I have learned a copious amount of information in a number of different fields. Since I’m working at a service center, I’ve seen needy people everyday that come in for the free food pantry or for hot meals on the weekends; I’ve worked in the office and made referrals to other local organizations for individuals to receive help; I’ve made photo-copies, taken phone-calls, and updated computer documents; I was even able to teach three young musicians and help out in beginner bands at the Salvation Army’s annual Music Conservatory. I’ve had such a broad amount of experience over these past six weeks and I know what I’ve learned is invaluable. The fact that the internship is paid made it all even sweeter; luckily I’m putting it directly into a college savings account, or I’d probably have spent it already on CDs.

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Dual enrollment has some disadvantages in terms of time and money, but for many students, it offers intellectually exciting options not offered in their high schools. It also demonstrates to prospective colleges that they can perform and hold their own alongside older, mature peers. Students who take part in dual enrollment can benefit from several advantages:

It allows gifted kids to fulfill their potential. If your school is lacking Advanced Placement options or if you have a unique subject of interest, then dual enrollment allows you to take matters into your own hands. Colleges offer a diverse array of course offerings that extend far beyond what you can learn in high school. Instead of languishing in classes in that don't challenge or inspire you, check out the interesting options (as well as their prerequsites) at a local college.

It improves academic readiness. By immersing yourself in college-level work early on, you'll be more prepared once you do enter college. Many freshman are surprised by the amount of reading and the quality of work required by college instructors. Dual enrollment programs help get students comfortably acquainted with the idea of college and eliminates the intimidation factor, especially among first-generation collegegoers and underrepresented minorities.

It gives a boost in college admissions. Many colleges look upon dual enrollment favorably, since it's a sign that the student can complete challenging and advanced coursework. So does that mean you should cram in as many college-level courses as possible to impress your future admissions committee? Not exactly. Brian Taylor, Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, writes, "We look positively upon students who take the recommended rather than the required high school courses. But ... the reason to take and succeed in your classes is not just to possibly get a favorable offer of admission to all the colleges on your wish list. The bigger thing to focus on is getting the best preparation for your academic future."

Dual enrollment laws vary by state, and each school district may implement it in a different way. (Some may offer college classes on high school campuses by hiring professors; others may have relationships with local community colleges.) Ask your guidance counselor about the options you have if you want to pursue dual enrollment.

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Don Munce