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Major Decisions

By Alissa Ricci
On April 22, 2009

All college students must make one decision that will shape their future. Some arrive thinking that they have it all figured out, while others are completely undecided. Regardless, at some point everyone asks themselves the big question: What do I want to major in?

Engineers and business students must decide on a major by second semester freshman year, while arts and science students do not need to declare until a year later. Nursing students begin college with a major but often declare minors and concentrations to diversify their academic experience. However, the decision-making process is similar for all students.

Villanova requires every student to complete a minimum amount of coursework for their school. The curricula are designed to expose students to a wide variety of majors prior to picking one. Additionally, this also helps students decide on a minor or concentration to supplement their major or just satisfy the thirst to study something unrelated yet intriguing.

Picking a major is stressful for some and easier for others. Much depends on the student's high school background. Over the past five years, the Office of Admissions has seen an increase in the number of students coming in with AP credits. This often means one is granted 6 or more credits and excused from taking many core curriculum classes. It can also mean that one has time and room in their schedule to explore majors.

At Villanova and universities nationwide, a list of the 10 most popular majors has emerged for our generation. The motivation across the board in the decision-making process includes factors such as intellectual interest, market demand and career aspirations. Certain majors are seen as more prestigious and marketable than others, and there is no doubt this plays into what students decide.

Number of choices for majors is another factor. Universities offer different programs for students, which may or may not be as extensive as universities elsewhere. This sometimes leads to students transferring, but more often students choose to stay at their current school and make a major decision. At Villanova, arts students have the widest variety of majors to pick from, while nursing students have the most focused and regimented curriculum.

The College of Liberal Arts' most popular areas of study include communication (358 current majors), political science (263 current majors), English (226 current majors), psychology (153 current majors), and economics (146 current majors). It appears that social science majors are particularly popular, as well as writing and media majors.

Part of what makes communication the most popular major is its great reputation for being flexible and a chance to specialize within the field. Communication major Chris Fujimoto asserts that his major "gets a bad rep as being the 'easy' major on campus, and it isn't easy at all, just different than other majors." It is interesting to note that communication is not represented in the required core curriculum for arts students, yet it remains the most popular major.

Political science and English are also in the top three majors. These majors are often seen as "stepping stones" to further education. Political science major Alex Pugliese and double political science-English major Jordan Shipley each spoke of plans to attend law school after Villanova. Part of the popularity of their majors also has to do with the great reputation of the English and political science departments for providing stimulating classes and excellent professors.

The most popular science major is biology (302 current majors), with mathematics following (124 current majors). Biology is popular for students planning careers in the medical field, even if they only minor in it.

Junior Leslie Grimes is a human services major with a minor in biology and she aspires to a career in genetic counseling. Mathematics, on the other hand, can be applied to a number of careers in business and science. Sophomore Maria Guida says her math degree will allow her to choose from a variety of fields from actuarial work to teaching.

The College of Engineering's most popular major, out of the five engineering majors available, is mechanical engineering. It currently boasts 221 majors. The number of engineers in the past decade has increased because of more market demand for technology, particularly communication technology and defense technology.

Sophomore mechie John Waldron explains the major as a cross between materials science and defense. He mentions that his major doesn't allow one to have "free reign over schedules and no chance of studying abroad without taking semester overloads after." However, the majority of engineers can enter the lucrative field with starting salaries around $50,000 right after graduation.

The School of Business, ranked No. 11 in the nation according to Business Week, often represents Villanova in the public eye. According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, about 318,000 business degrees are conferred annually, more degrees than in any other field.

Princeton Review lists business administration as the top major and describes it as a field that demands leadership, stellar people skills and the ability to compete. At Villanova, the most popular business major is finance, with 743 current majors. Junior finance major Justin Harvey says it is popular because the study of finance can apply broadly to the business field as a whole.

The Nursing School's 529 current majors represent a small part of an overall trend of students planning careers in the medical field. Nursing is the top third major listed on Princeton Review. Villanova's curriculum for nurses, which is very rigid, offers students the chance to prepare for work in a variety of medical fields, from geriatrics to neurology. Sophomore Jackie Zizwarek also cites "the excitement on the hospital floor, never being bored and saving lives" as reasons she trains to be a nurse.

As for the least popular majors, these tend to be ones that are newly established at Villanova or ones that have an extremely narrow field of study that is not in-demand in the workplace. This list includes classics (3 current majors), art history (8 current majors), and foreign languages. These majors tend to be combined with other majors to increase career prospects and make one more competitive.

If you do not have a major yet, a good place to start is by asking people about their majors and how they came to decide. Then, assess your skills and interest areas. Career Services offers one-on-one sessions with career assistants to help you plan out your academic career at Villanova and investigate possibilities for the future. They also have an entire page on their website dedicated to answering the question "What can I do with my major?" Pick a major that works best for you, because you'll be doing all the work to earn the degree and then apply it.


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