The Guide to Choosing and Declaring a Major

Read through this guide and find exercises for thinking about the major and links to resources. 


As a sophomore, you are in a position to make one of the most exciting choices in your academic career at Wesleyan--that of your major. Specifically, the major you choose will help to determine your future course of study at Wesleyan and the path of your liberal arts undergraduate education. At this point, the process may seem daunting. You might have trouble eliminating options, you might not see any options that interest you, or you might not know where to begin.

This document was created to help you come to a decision, wherever you might be in the process. Even if you have reached a firm decision already, you are encouraged to read this Guide in an effort to examine and evaluate your academic priorities. 

Where do I begin? I don’t know what I want!

If you do not know where to begin, you might try the following exercise using WesMaps. Take a piece of paper and crease it to create three columns. On the top line of each column, write "Must Have," "Interested," and "Not Interested," respectively. As you peruse courses in WesMaps, keep a running list in those three categories. Challenge yourself to read course entries in every department and program, even those in which you do not have a strong aptitude or initial interest. You may be surprised at what you find there.

Now look more closely at your lists and answer the following questions for each list:

  • What are the similarities between the courses?
  • Do they all fall in one department or program?
  • Are they all in one of the three divisions of the curriculum (HA, SBS, NSM)?
  • Have I taken courses in any of the departments represented?
  • Do they draw on different or similar skills (reading, writing, research, test-taking, etc.)?
  • What is the basis for my interest in these courses (professor, subject, kind of work, etc.)?

Additional questions for the "Must Have" List:

  • Is it possible to take all of the courses I have listed prior to graduation?
  • Do they represent an interdisciplinary approach to the same subject matter?

In comparing the three lists, what conclusions can you make about your interests?

The "Not Interested" column should show you that out of the 45+ possible majors, you are well on your way to choosing one or two. Your "Must Have" list most likely has a theme running through it that will help to inform your choice. Think about other ways you could incorporate your interests, such as by majoring in an interdisciplinary program, doing a double major, or taking elective courses outside of your major for both enrichment and intellectual diversity in your junior and senior years. 

I want too many things. I’m all over the curriculum! 

If you listed almost every course from the curriculum in your "Must Have" or "Interested" column from the first exercise, these questions should help you begin to realize how you can pursue all your interests, whether you choose to major in them or not.

  • Which discipline would you consider pursuing in a graduate program?
  • Which discipline would you be comfortable reading about on your own?
  • Which discipline can you learn about through work experience?
  • Which discipline can you imagine devoting yourself to this coming year?
  • Which discipline could you take one or two courses in prior to graduation?
  • What faculty members from different disciplines can you take courses with?
  • What faculty members from different disciplines can you engage in discussion about topics of interest to you?

Answering these questions should let you know you can pursue your interests in several ways. You don’t have to major in them all. Majors at a good liberal arts university prepare you for a variety of professional and scholarly opportunities after college.

Another exercise is to plan out a tentative course schedule for each of your remaining four semesters at Wesleyan. Is it doable? Does it excite you? If not, take a step back and try another course schedule. Now look at the plan again and this time pretend you are looking back at your transcript after graduation.

  • How would you feel about it?
  • Does it represent a true liberal arts education?
  • Do you feel that you took advantage of the diversity of the Wesleyan curriculum?
  • What are some ways to continue your education after graduation?

There isn’t a major at Wesleyan that fits my interests.

Being passionate about an academic discipline means researching that subject.  What are you passionate about? What are your escapes? When procrastinating, what do you read for pleasure? What are some of your academic distractions?

In this thinking, though, be careful not to fall prey to myths. If you are lucky enough to feel such "passion," then that makes your choice easier. However, do not wait for a major to call to you as if it is the only perfect choice in a sea of good choices. Rather than thinking about what will be perfect, consider instead what you enjoy and find fulfilling. In which classes have you cared about the issues at hand? When you have reviewed the work of a scientist, anthropologist, writer, cinematographer, historian, economist, mathematician, or dancer, have you felt you might like to do similar work?

One interesting approach to the major at Wesleyan is the University Major. This major affords students the opportunity to design a program that responds to their individual interests and aptitudes. It requires students to use the methodologies of two or more disciplines, and gives them the chance to work independently on an entire program. Students need to develop the necessary background and coherently integrate the courses in order to achieve their objectives. Not all proposals are approved, and students are required to declare another major in March before submitting the University Major proposal in early April. Feel free to stop by the Deans' Office for more information.

Taking time away from Wesleyan may be another solution to discovering your interests. If you are not sure why you are in college, you might benefit from some serious reflection on this question. There are a variety of ways for you to productively utilize a leave of absence. Information about internships and other opportunities can be found at the Gordon Career Center

Seeking advice from others: who and what are the resources? 

University Publications are essential tools to choosing a major:

  • The Student Handbook includes a variety of documents of interest to the Wesleyan Community.

  • The Faculty and Student Advising Handbook highlights Wesleyan's academic regulations and graduation requirements essential to your academic success. Complete academic regulations are found at on the Registrar's web site

  • Wesmaps is Wesleyan’s curriculum on-line and an excellent source for planning your program of study. You can access it using any on-line browser. This view of the curriculum allows more flexible access to course information, because of the grouping of courses into meaningful categories, the powerful search mechanism it contains, and the availability of the most up-to-date information. This allows for greater opportunities to explore the curriculum and better identify themes across departments.
  • Department Home Pages are the webpages maintained by individual departments. These pages are a great source for general information about majors as well as about specific requirements.

The Faculty were once in your position. They all went through the process of choosing a major and are now experts in their fields. As such, they are an invaluable resource for you. You also should consult with your faculty advisor and professors or, for that matter, any other member of the faculty.

You might ask them how they chose their majors. You also might ask them to help you understand some of the pros and cons of declaring a major in their field at Wesleyan and post-Wesleyan. Asking faculty members for additional information also can help your decision-making. For example, would they recommend any journals or books that would give you a better understanding of serious scholarship in their particular area? What are they currently researching? 

The Deans' Office is another place to turn to in this process. Feel free to come in during drop-in hours or to make an appointment to meet with your class dean to discuss your unique situation. Some feel it is useful to meet with someone who is not involved in one specific department so you can talk through your own thoughts on a subject.

The Gordon Career Center has a variety of resources for planning time away from Wesleyan and for plans after Wesleyan. Besides print and on-line information, professional career counselors and peer career advisors are available, through both drop-ins and appointments, to help you with job and internships searches, and with graduate school and fellowship applications.