For Parents & the Community

Is your student “undecided” or “open and exploring?” If you college student hasn’t decided on a major, this can be worrisome as a parent or caregiver and also for your student. Your concern is understandable, but the reality is that it is perfectly natural for a freshman and, and even sophomore, to spend time exploring their major options.

Now is a great time for your student to learn more about their interests, strengths, and values, and also about the wide variety of majors offered at UW-Madison. Your students will be better able to make sound decisions about their major after given the opportunity to explore, learn about the possibilities offered at UW-Madison, and reflect.

About the CEC

Career Exploration Center (CEC) advisors are here and eager to help your student talk through their interests and options!

We provide a variety of resources, including one-on-one advising appointments to help them explore their unique interests, skills, and values, and group events  on a variety of topics such as How to Choose a Major and Chat with an Expert.

For students who’d like to get started exploring on their own, the CEC website provides information, guidance, and resources on both majors and careers:

Explore Majors              Explore Careers             Self-Awareness

Ideas for Supporting Your Exploring Student

  • Be open and willing to listen to your student’s ideas about majors and careers.
  • Encourage your student to explore their options, and help them plan out some steps for exploring.
  • Let your student know they are not alone in being undecided.
  • Encourage them to set up appointments with both their academic advisor and a career advisor, and to attend major- and career-related events on campus.
  • Emphasize the benefits of outside-the-classroom experiences, such as volunteering, students jobs, and student organizations.
  • Help your student understand the common misconceptions surrounding majors and careers. Below are some myths that can cause stress for both students and their parents/caregivers.

Major Myths vs. Realities

Myth

Students should know their major when they start college so they don’t fall behind in their coursework.

Reality

Some students may know their major as a first-year student but many do not. Many who have already chosen a major, may change their minds several times in their first years of college.

Most majors don’t require that a student start them as a freshman. Some exceptions are the pre-professional programs, e.g. engineering, landscape architecture, and dietetics. However, even with majors such as those, students need to complete general, introductory coursework in their first few semesters before they start on the major-specific classes. 

Many majors at UW-Madison are only 30-40 credits, or about a quarter to a third of the total degree requirements. This means students can spend one-three semesters taking courses of interest to explore their major possibilities and still have time to complete their major and degree in four years.

Myth

Your student’s major will determine their career.

Reality

This is not necessarily true! Many may assume that a biology major means a medical career, or that a history major leads to a teaching career. Most of the time, however, major does not equal career.

According to a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only about 27% of college graduates work in a career related to their college major. A biology major may work in market research, public relations, or academia. A history major may wind up in banking, artificial intelligence, or communications. 

Majors are just one part of students’ college experience. A student’s outside-the-classroom experiences, connections, and how well they are able to articulate their skills to potential employers look beyond the major and take into consideration other factors, such as such as the connections the student makes and how well they market their skills to employers

Myth

Students who major in the social sciences, arts, and humanities will not be as prepared for careers as those who choose business, computer science, or engineering.

Reality

While there are certain careers that require specific undergraduate training (engineering, accounting, and dietetics, for example), many, many careers do not. And don’t underestimate the value of a liberal arts & sciences education: students in these majors gain crucial skills that employers seek, such as problem-solving, analyzing, communicating, and critical thinking. We also strongly encourage students to enhance their education with out-of-classroom learning:: student jobs, internships, volunteer work, research, and leadership all help students gain skills, as well as learn more about themselves and the world of work.