Do you know for sure what you will study in college? Here are some tips for finding a college that is strong in your intended major.
If you know what major you want to pursue in college, not only do you choose a school but you also choose a specific program within that school. Here are some pointers to help you make some informed and promising choices.
Find Out What a Strong Program in Your Major Looks Like
Before you can choose a college with a strong program in your major, you need to know what you are looking for. Here are people and resources that can get you started.
- Faculty. College faculty are usually happy to share their thoughts on what makes a strong undergraduate program in their field.
- Accrediting agencies. Some majors are subject to accreditation, which means they must meet certain standards. You can refer to these standards as you research programs at specific schools. To find accrediting agencies, try searching online for your major or field plus the word "accreditation."
- Professional associations. College faculty often belong to societies that publish information about what to consider when choosing programs in particular majors. To find such associations, try searching online for your major plus the word "association."
- Employers and successful practitioners. Find out what skills and college background are important to hiring managers and successful professionals. Interview such people or consult trade association publications and websites. They may even share a few "lessons learned" from their own college experiences and recommend colleges that carry particular weight.
Find Colleges Offering Your Major
You can use CollegeData's College Match to find colleges that offer a particular major. You can also consult family friends and other adults working in fields related to your major. Your college counselor may be able to help you make such connections. Websites devoted to certain professions or academic fields may list colleges prominent in the field. College rankings may highlight certain colleges, but be sure to consult more than one ranking.
Determine Which Colleges Look Promising
There is a wealth of data available about individual colleges. CollegeData's College Profiles can help you get started. Does the college offer grants and scholarships in your field? What is the overall academic quality of the college? Look at graduation rates, class sizes, stats of enrolled students, percentage of students going on to graduate school, and percentage of faculty with advanced degrees.
Investigate the College's Commitment to the Major
The next step is to go to the college for more information. Visit the department's web pages, ask to speak with a department representative, or visit in person. Check the college website for recent awards won by faculty in your field. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you gather information.
- What does the college spend on the major?
- Are there state-of-the-art facilities?
- Are the professors renowned in their field—do they publish research, garner awards, etc.?
- Does the academic department have its own website, offer its own financial aid, and publish reports and other contributions to the field?
- How much time do professors spend teaching vs. doing research?
- How many faculty members teach full-time or part-time?
- Do senior professors regularly teach undergraduate courses and serve as advisors to undergraduate students?
- Are there research and internship opportunities for undergraduates?
Confirm your overall impressions by interviewing a few professors. This can shed more light on the depth of the major program and whether it is a good fit for you.
Get Inside Information from the College Catalog
For more information about a major program at a college, the definitive source is the college catalog. The catalog includes detailed information about your major that will help your investigation. CollegeData's College Profiles include links to online catalogs for most schools and information about ordering printed catalogs. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you look through the catalog:
- Is the major designed to prepare students for advanced study or a particular career?
- Is there a graduate program in the same subject?
- What are the backgrounds of the faculty?
- How rigorous is the required high school preparation?
- What are the policies and requirements for formally declaring the major?
- What are the course requirements and other requirements for completing the degree?
- Do descriptions of courses provide lots of details?
- Does the program include specialized study options, sometimes called tracks, subspecialties, or areas of concentration?
Sometimes you can tell a lot by the sheer number and variety of courses (or "breadth") within a given major. Study the course descriptions. Even though you may not understand every word, you may gain some insight into the depth of the program.
If you can't find the information you need in the catalog, follow up with the college admissions office or contact the academic department directly.
Find Out How Successful the Program Is
Look at the graduation rates of students in the program, the average GPA of students in the program, and how heavily students in the program are recruited for jobs or graduate school. Another telling statistic is the proportion of graduates admitted to prestigious graduate or professional schools. Also check out how many land a job in a related field within a reasonable period of time. You may need to dig a little to get this information. Again, contact the admissions office or academic department.
Get Feedback from Grads and Current Students
Talking to former or current students in the major can reveal a lot about the program. They can tell you what they think of the program overall; how well it prepared them for graduate school or a job; what the faculty is like; which courses are tough and which are easy; how much undergraduate teaching is done by graduate students; and how the program is regarded by others on campus. If you can't find such students, ask the department to put you in touch with a few.
Absorbing all this information can be tough. You may find some schools that fit your goals. Or you may feel more overwhelmed than informed. Take your time, do some digging, and visit campuses and the major departments if you can. Colleges that seem right on paper may or may not feel right once you get there.