Major Network helps students find the best fit

The program links undecided students with mentors in several fields.

by Kyle Stowe

By the middle of her spring semester freshman year, Alex Tsai knew she needed a change.

“I always wanted to major in biology,” she said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t for me.”

Tsai found that a biology career didn’t line up with her personality. As a sophomore this fall, Tsai joined the Center for Academic Planning and Exploration’s Major Network in hopes of identifying a major that suited her better. Since the program started in fall 2011, it has connected many students like Tsai with mentors to help them find a major that fits them.

After meeting with an upper-level physiology student, Tsai finally found the right field for her, and she said she’s set to join the major this week.

A 2012 Orientation and First-Year Programs survey found that only 23 percent of incoming freshmen at the University knew exactly what they wanted to major in and did not plan to change their mind.

LeeAnn Melin, the director of Undergraduate Student Initiatives who oversees CAPE, said it’s a normal and positive experience for students to explore different majors after starting at the University.

 “One of the most important things for students to remember is not to rush their decision into a major,” she said. “It’s all about finding the right fit.”

But University policy mandates students declare a major when they hit 60 credits. If students don’t declare, they risk a hold that prevents them from registering for classes. Melin said that students also risk late graduation if they delay the process.

To address this, the Major Network connects freshmen and sophomores with mentors who have experience in a field and can offer insight about what a certain major is like.

This fall, the network has 27 students who can be matched with 241 mentors representing 60 majors.

Communications and political science senior Sarah Leitzke became a Major Network mentor last fall. She meets with students who are interested in learning about both of her majors.

After coming to the University as an undecided freshman, Leitzke said she could draw on her own personal experiences of searching for a major to help other students going through the same process.

“I know what it’s like to be completely uncomfortable and insecure about what you want to study,” she said. “And I know how beneficial hearing one of your peers’ voices can be.”

Junior Kayla Lutteke said she felt pressured to choose a major soon after she started college.

“I felt like I was on the clock right when I got to school,” she said.

Lutteke said she scrambled to take prerequisite courses for a studio art degree but was always curious about a graphic design major.

To look into the graphic design major, Lutteke enrolled in the Major Network. After a mentor told her what the program was like, she opted to pursue that program instead.

“Speaking with my mentor gave that push I needed to go for it,” she said.

When looking to join the Major Network, students fill out an application that has them identify up to three majors they’re interested in. After joining, students can get in contact with mentors and can shadow them or ask questions about their major.

For some students, these mentors can be more helpful than academic advisers.

Tsai said there can be a disconnection when discussing potential majors with academic advisers, faculty members and other adults because they’re not on the same level with students who experience daily life in a major program. Students can also speak more casually with mentors their own age.

“It’s nice to talk to other students about a major because they’re going through the process right now,” she said. “Other adults can’t give you that perspective.”

Lutteke said it’s important for undecided students to use campus resources like the Major Network to their advantage.

“It’s not weird if you don’t know what you want to do with your life,” she said. “But it’s up to us to use the programs that the University makes available to help us in our search.”