Myths about choosing a major

MYTH: I have to pick the right major for my intended career.
    
FACT: A recent study of the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 79% of employers wanted students to have completed a significant project before graduation that demonstrates depth of knowledge in their major even if that major was not in a field of direct relationship to the employer.
Also, 93% of employers surveyed said that "...a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important thatn [a candidates] undergraduate major."
Weaving a compelling narrative of what you did and why will be a key element to your post graduation success.  When it is time to declare a major, you can use your Long-Range Plan preparation as a way to discover or decide a set of interesting topics or questions in which you want to develop experience.  We suggest that you think of the major declaration process as a time to reflect on this issue and encourage you to discuss this with your college advisor and other faculty, staff, and peers with whom you have developed relationships.
 
MYTH: Everyone does at least a major, minor and a certificate at Duke because multiple credentials inherently imply more rigor and thus marketability.
     
FACT: From the 2014 graduating class, 84% of students added some additional credential to a single major. Of that 84%, only 12% did a major, a minor and a certificate; 11% did a double major; and 15% combined a major or double-major with a certificate.   
Duke’s certificate programs give you a chance to explore different industry specificities. If you couple them with in-depth engagement in a major you create a diverse portfolio of experiences. There are also avenues for undergraduates to pursue research at Duke outside of a formal certificate. Opportunities within Bass Connections, the WIRED! lab, or Humanities Labs offer you a chance to work with faculty over a semester, a summer, or longer.
 
MYTH: The Majors Fair is only useful to students who already know what majors interest them.  Or, the Majors Fair is only useful to students who don’t have any idea what majors interest them.
    
FACT: The Majors Fair is useful for students at any point in their explorations.
    
For first-year students, it’s an opportunity to get a sense of the roughly 50 majors and minors, and nearly 20 certificate offerings at Duke; to introduce yourself to the Director of Undergraduate Studies in a department, and to join departmental listservs so you can keep up with information sessions and gatherings throughout the year.
For sophomores, the majors fair is particularly useful if you invest a bit of preparation time.  Here are some suggestions:
1) Make an appointment with your college advisor either right before or right after the majors fair to talk about where your interests are leaning.
2) Visit the departmental webpage of your top three prospective majors and review/print out the major requirements or worksheet that allows you to see how coursework is organized.
3) Craft a few specific questions for the folks at the fair or for your college advisor based on what you learn.
These three steps can have a meaningful impact on the construction of your Long Range Plan not to mention your overall feeling of satisfaction and confidence in deciding on a disciplinary home.
 
MYTH: If I want to be competitive for medical school I must major in a natural or quantitative science field.
    
FACT: Being ready to take the MCAT your JR or SR year, means that you have a set of preparatory courses that must be completed in a particular sequence and on a particular timeline. Meeting with a pre-health advisor and getting set up with an AdviseStream account helps you keep on-track with those requirements.
    
The research requirements of medical schools can be filled with natural or quantitative science projects but also with research in the arts and humanities. In fact, you want to consider just how many other science major students you might be competing with in your application to medical school, all of you with similar credentials and backgrounds. If you have an intellectual interest in a non-science discipline, investing in a portfolio of research in that discipline is one way to stand out from the crowd in a positive way.
 
MYTH: Since internships are often key to future employment, I should seek out majors or study away opportunities that have internships as part of their curriculum.
    
 FACT: Internships come in many different shapes and sizes and may or may not directly relate to your major. Major in a discipline or pursue a global/civic opportunity where you have a genuine intellectual interest/stake. Putting the end goal (a job) before a close examination of the experience can be a recipe for unhappiness.  If thinking about post-Duke life is worrying, start working with the staff at the Career Center early, the same way you work with your advising network. They have resources that can help you find opportunities that can move you into a career but also those that can help you explore your own intellectual investments in ways that may unlock paths you’ve not even started to imagine.