Go on a fact-finding mission to gather information about your different options for a major. Do some research/homework about what’s out there. Be focused and flexible – you may have an idea of what you want, but you don’t have to be sure yet. Set goals, but be open to changing plans as needed and learning about new areas of study that you may not have previously considered. As you collect information for each program you are considering, review what is known and appreciate what is not known – it’s okay not to know everything. Here are some ways to get the information you need:
Attend information sessions and major fairs
An information session or major fair can give you some basic information about what a major is all about. You can get a feel for the kind of topics that will be studied along with how to apply to the major and graduate, and available options for research, internships, study abroad, and career opportunities. Check with the individual department or school regarding the schedule of information sessions and major fairs and watch your USC email inbox for announcements.
Take a few introductory courses
Follow the links from the list of undergraduate majors for suggested introductory courses as well as the complete requirements of majors. Look over the list of available General Education courses for introductory courses that look interesting and might be potential majors. If you decide not to major in the subject, you can still count the course toward general education requirements. An undecided major advisor can also point you in the right direction regarding the recommended introductory classes for a given program.
Talk with department advisors
Department advisors are some of the best resources on campus because their knowledge of their department spans the continuum from minute details about degree requirements, faculty, and courses (e.g., “That course is only offered every other year, and you never want to take it at the same time as this class.”) to broad intellectual issues of theory and philosophy (e.g., “Professor X’s research all springs from her theory of X, Y, Z”). They can help you form a picture of what the academic culture of the major is like and can put you in touch with faculty or other students in the program.
Talk with faculty in the major
Perhaps you’re thinking of majoring in an area you’re taking a class in this semester. Go to office hours and talk to your instructor about his or her interests and background in the discipline. Remember: this person has dedicated his or her life to the subject, to its advancement and its dissemination. If anyone could give you the lowdown of that major, a faculty member can. Faculty can tell you about courses, career paths, and will be able to recommend the top journals of the discipline for you to peruse the current research in the area. If you’re not in a class with someone, ask the department advisor who to talk with. Faculty are busy, but they will be happy to share with someone who is genuinely interested in their field.
Talk with students already declared in the major
To get the ultimate insider’s view, talk with other students (like we had to tell you that!). Find out what drew them to the major, what their experience has been in the program (both in and out of the classroom), what they hope to do in the future, and what the good opportunities are. And remember that all students are different – just because one person likes or dislikes a field of study doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same way. Keep in mind how you may be different in terms of your preferences and goals from others.
Get a job or an internship
There’s sometimes no way to know if you like something until you do it. Work with the department advisor, the Career Center, the Volunteer Center, or the Joint Educational Project to get some leads on jobs, internships, and service opportunities.
Do undergraduate research
USC brings in over $500 million in research funding each year. There is a huge amount of research going on at all times. And many of those research projects rely on undergraduate research assistants to get the work done. Take advantage of one of the great resources USC has to offer, and try your hand at research. For many students, doing the actual research of a discipline can be just the spark needed to light a passion. To find opportunities, connect with the Undergraduate Research & Discovery Programs and department advisors.
Talk with a career counselor
Although majors and careers are certainly not the same thing, the same skills that make career counselors good at helping people find their career passion might be directed to help you find your academic passion.
The Career Center also offers the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Strong Interest Inventory (SII), both widely used career assessment tools which may also shed light onto your academic interests. You may learn something new about yourself, may confirm what you already knew about yourself, or perhaps see things from a different perspective. In any case, it is fun to hear the interpretations.
Visit the Career Center to see how they can assist you.