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Where Do I Begin?

The following are suggestions from the Deans and Deans Office Student Consultants (DOSCs) on how to begin the process of thinking about your major.

Step 1: Identify What You Want

If you're not sure where to start, begin by thinking about yourself and what you want by answering the following questions:

  • What courses have you most enjoyed? Why? (e.g., Professor, subject matter, etc.)
  • What type of work do you enjoy? (e.g. papers vs. problem sets, abstract vs. empirical, etc.)
  • What courses have you performed the best in academically?
  • What qualities are you looking for? Think about class size, ease of getting to know professors, the variety of courses and off-campus programs available to you.

And some deeper questions...

  • Why are you considering particular majors? Do your motivations come from your interests, abilities, and values, or from other factors (e.g., family/peer pressures or internal pressure to pursue "practical" or "prestigious" majors)?
  • Consider the balance you want to find among what you enjoy, what you consider your strengths, and what you believe useful in making a decision about what to major in.
  • What values and principles guide your life? Will those values match the requirements and outcomes of a potential major or career?
  • Do your interests, abilities, values, and motivations conflict with each other or are they in agreement? Sometimes students are interested in a major but find they do not have the abilities to handle the academic demands of the required curriculum. On the other hand, some students have considerable abilities in a particular discipline but do not have any real interest in studying that discipline. Is your choice of major a realistic one?

Step 2: Narrowing Down the Choices

So you've got a general idea of who you are or what you want, but now you need to focus down a bit. Think about some of the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself looking more at certain departments when you browse the ORC? Which ones? Write down the courses you'd like to take in the future.
  • Have you taken classes in all the departments you are thinking about? (If not, you should do so.) Have you taken non-introductory courses? List those that you have enjoyed the most.
  • Which professors or courses have you enjoyed the most so far?
  • Make a list of all the possible majors and departments you have considered. How do these programs match up with the qualities you mentioned in Step 1?

Step 3: Arriving at a Final Decision

When your list has been narrowed down to a handful or less, try to follow these further suggestions to make a final decision.

  • List the courses in each major that are required (including prerequisites). The Office of the Class Deans has major and minor sheets listing requirements of each major, or you can look at each department's requirements in the ORC. If you've narrowed it to two or three departments, try creating a few mock D-plans. The Deans and DOSCs may be very helpful with this particular step.
  • Consider the special features of each department, such as FSPs, LSAs, seminars, special research opportunities, etc.
  • Make sure your D-Plan matches up with the courses you might need or want to take.
  • Talk to members of the Senior Advisory Network for specifics about the major.
  • If you still can't decide between multiple majors, you may want to consider double-majoring or doing a major and a minor.
  • And finally, go ahead and fill out your major card!!! Congratulations!!

What Do I Do if I'm Still Lost???

  • Acknowledge that you've done the right thing by admitting your major confusion. You're starting in the right place and your problem is perfectly fixable!
  • Now start taking advantage of Dartmouth's many academic advising resources!
  • Begin by meeting with trained academic advisors. Or, schedule a meeting with your class dean. The Deans Office Student Consultants are also trained specifically to help students solve problems such as these.
  • Speak with members of the Senior Advisory Network to find out what different majors are like and if they match your interests.
  • Go visit your faculty! Just drop in or make an appointment to talk with professors you have connected with or the heads of departments you are interested in.
  • Think about the activities you are involved with and speak with other members of those groups to see if your academic interests might match up.
  • Research majors at Career Services and find out what former students have done with majors in different departments.
  • Ask people who know you — parents, friends, coaches, faculty — what they think you truly want to major in.

Last Updated: 7/22/09