October 31, 2012

A Major Misconception

by Christina Bull

The push for choosing a major is often a frightening one. From the second high school students start the application process to college, they are encouraged to begin seriously thinking about their major. Many colleges even allow students to officially declare before they’ve even taken their first class!

Majors are meant to be advantageous guides to one’s education, helping students build knowledge and skills in a subject that they’re passionate about and eventually want a career in. While this is unquestionably true, because of the ties to their career, it is very common for students to feel an undue amount of pressure surrounding the task of actually selecting one. To many, making this decision can be a daunting and terrifying process. Even at Pratt, where the curriculum is already narrowed from that of a typical university, every undecided student must officially declare their specific interests in the art and design world by the end of freshman year.

But why is choosing a major so intimidating? Many would argue that the largest perceived benefit of a major is also what makes it so threatening– a specific focus. Many students approach choosing a major as rigidly selecting the only thing they will ever do in their lives for the rest of eternity. Students are often afraid to “ruin their life,” as though this decision could be a mistake they can’t correct. This hyperbolic reaction proves to be overwhelmingly common. Despite any potential snags surrounding this illusory conundrum, it’s important to note that while a major determines the scope of the classes taken while at Pratt, it does not strictly determine exactly what kinds of opportunities are available after graduation, nor does it restrict the skills that can learned along the way.

When applying for a job, employers primarily look at the job seeker’s portfolio (if applicable), experience, evaluated work ethic, enthusiasm, and communication skills rather than their degree title. (Not to mention the role your network plays in the jobs you land).  Examples of this can be found everywhere.

Many of Pratt’s most successful alumni are famous for career accomplishments unrelated to their major. For example, Lucia De Respins, an industrial design major, is known for creating the Dunkin Donuts logo. Myron Waldman, a fine arts major, was the head animator for Betty Boop. (Click here to read more about Pratt's iconic alumni!) Bernard Chang (recently featured in our “alumni spotlight”), is another perfect example of transcending the perceived limitations involved in a major choice. Chang graduated from Pratt with a degree in architecture, but is popularly known for his illustration work in Marvel and DC comics.

Students, like actual people, do not fit into unyielding figurative academic boxes. Especially at Pratt, where the student body is filled with talented and unique individuals, no one person is identical in their skill set or experience. In reality, most creative people dabble in some sort of work outside of their major. The elements that make one unique and valuable as an employee, rather than the title of their major, are the real factors that determine what kind of work can be done and what kind of jobs can be acquired.

In a brief interview with Rhonda Schaller, the new director of The Center for Career and Professional Development, I got the opportunity to get her personal opinion on major matters. “It is a misnomer to think that people have only one area of study. The true key to being creative is the ability to be flexible, nimble, multifaceted, and courageous,” Schaller explains.  “A major can be better viewed as a philosophical concept, where students express their vision and apply concepts to it. Majors should encourage students to be open to possibilities and elements and connect dots in different ways”. Schaller stresses that often this process involves drawing from a variety of skillsets typically affiliated with other majors.

While the walls of a major are more permeable than many students realize, the “big choice” still has to be made. For students who have trouble deciding due to a diverse set of interests in the art and design field, it is often helpful to look to one’s role models­­­– the artists that inspire and enlighten one’s own work– and take note what they majored in. Talking to upperclassmen* and faculty can often help students better understand the mindset of a potential major. Despite the value of these resources, it is ultimately most important to trust oneself in the things that them happy. Self-reflection often provides the most valuable answers in the determining the major with the best fit.

All that taken into consideration, students should never be afraid to make a switch if they are unhappy with the sort of work they are doing in within their chosen major. No decision is set in stone. It’s important to experience what you pick, and if it doesn’t feel right, find a way to make it work or change it. There are no mistakes.

In addition, you do not have to make this decision on your own! There are endless resources at Pratt for students who seek guidance. If a student is unhappy with their classes, they can talk to their academic advisor. A visit to the Center for Career and Professional Development can also help in adding practical meaning to their dreams.

The Center for Career and Professional Development is an exorbitantly useful tool in tackling major fear. It is a friendly place that strives to teach, encourage, motivate, inspire, facilitate understanding of career opportunities, and encourage strategic thinking. Most importantly, the CCPD serves to germinate hope for the future by assisting students in redefining and giving meaning to their creative aspirations. Every resource is there to be used!

Despite their emphasized reputation, majors aren’t everything. They set up a framework for your education while at Pratt, but do not inflexibly determine everything that comes after. The working world primarily craves thinkers, collaborators, and creative individuals seeking to make a difference.

*Be sure to check out Peer to Peer’s “Fresh Meet” event later this year! Fresh Meet is a program to introduce freshmen to their options in deciding their major, choosing their classes, selecting their professors, and how each of these decisions will affect their career path. The program consists of current Peer Counselors, Juniors, and Seniors representing all undergraduate majors at Pratt. Email peer@pratt.edu for event more details.

Written by Christina Bull October 24th, 2012

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