Alexis Avila talks about how test preparation is …
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By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
Imagine you’ve made your college football team. Years of practice in high school and grueling summer training paid off, and you get the chance to play—even to start. When you step out onto the field though, you listen halfheartedly to the quarterback’s calls, sprint just enough to avoid breaking a sweat, and steer clear of tackles.
This may sound absurd. Who would work so hard to make a team, and then disengage, once on it?
But the truth is, getting accepted to college is much like making a team and it is not uncommon for students to apply the same unenergetic approach to learning, once in the classroom. Perhaps this is because the opposite approach—an intentional, intellectually curious one—also takes hard work and practice.
When you get to college, be it this fall or in a few years, you’ll have a chance to take as much from your experience as your discipline will allow—and to stand out from among your peers in the process.
One of the best ways to achieve this is to think actively about what you’re reading when you’re doing work for a particular class. Read it aloud, if that helps, or break up the reading by tackling half a chapter and then asking yourself, “Why should I care about what I just learned?” Or, “How does this information advance what I knew about the topic?”
Chances are, if you can articulate the importance or novelty of the topic you’re studying, you are grasping the bigger picture. And if you are grasping the bigger picture, all the little details—the anecdotes in the chapters you’re reading, or the ones your professor will bring up in the classroom—will “stick.” You’ll be able to recall them later because they support an idea that’s familiar to you.
This kind of engaged participation is particularly key in the classroom; while your classmates may be tempted to snooze after a late night in the library, or text, if you can be disciplined enough to focus on the professor’s lecture, you’ll make your life much easier—and stand out. (I’ve personally had professors approach me and acknowledge that my attentiveness was noticed and appreciated.)
The more engaged you are in the classroom, the less you’ll have to fret about studying. That’s because staying engaged is a sure way to know what material the professor’s most excited about, including some of the deeper, more nuanced points that are likely to be incorporated on a test.
While your college classmates try to answer questions with filler material when in a pinch, you will be positioned to answer test questions directly, and again, to incorporate the subtleties that attention to the lecture revealed.
It takes effort to sit up straight, to hang onto a professor’s (most) every word, and to avoid distractions, but the benefits are a better relationship with that professor, a better grasp of the material, and more efficient studying. Though it could take time, you will also achieve recognition by your classmates as a leader.
Being engaged doesn’t apply merely to homework, reading, classroom presence and test taking. Students who stand apart also pay special attention to the notes and feedback professors take the time to write on their papers and projects. It might seem like extra effort to keep those materials and to take the time—amid all else you have on the go during college—to “study” those pieces, but adding them to your study repertoire will help you identify your weak spots, to avoid them going forward. In this way, you can make progress without the professor having had to call you out on your repeat errors, a process which can be discouraging.
As you go through all this, remember the instruction that ties it all together, the glue in the engaged student’s skeleton: Ask questions when you don’t understand. Whether it’s a professor or a teaching assistant, or even an older student pursuing the same major, find someone you can sit with and pepper with questions. And stand ready to do the same for the younger students who will follow you. Not only is this process important for an engaged collegiate experience; it’s one you’ll see over and over again in every aspect—investing, home maintenance, parenthood—of life.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. Meagan is the Science Press Package Director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
What other ways can you engage in college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
Post your tips/comments below.
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By Steve R., AP US History and SAT Subject Test Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
The AP United States History exam is a challenging one, and it can be intimidating to study for. Here are five tips to help you figure out where to start, and to help you put things in perspective as you try to tackle this test.
The exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions (for which you have 55 minutes to complete) and a free-response section. This section consists of two essays (about 70 minutes to complete both) and a Document-Based Question, or DBQ (about 60 minutes to complete).
1. Focus on the 19th and 20th centuries
Over 80% of the multiple choice questions are likely to be on the period of 1790-1980. Only a few questions will deal with American history post-1980, and a chunk will deal with 1789 and before. If you’re prioritizing your study time, don’t expend too much energy on the colonial period.
2. Practice DBQs
The Document-Based Question will ask you to interpret 10-15 documents and answer a question based on your prior knowledge and those documents. Be sure to practice interpreting documents before you take the AP exam. Be sure that you’re an expert at determining the APPARTS of an historical document (APPARTS stands for Author, Place and time, Prior knowledge, Audience, Reason, The main idea, and Significance). Doing well on the DBQ will really bump up your score.
3. Don’t stress out about getting every multiple choice question right
Although doing very well on the multiple choice section will really benefit your score, having outstanding free response and DBQ essays will ensure an excellent score. The essays are graded on a scale from 1-9. These essays, especially the DBQ, are weighted heavily in your score. For instance, consider this: if you average a 7 on your essay questions, you can still receive a 5 on the AP exam if you answer only half of the multiple choice questions correctly (averaging a 7 is tough but doable). Do plenty of practice essays in preparing for the AP exam, and always think about how you would put what you’re studying into an essay.
4. Best prep books: Kaplan and Barron’s
As I mentioned in my post called Five SAT US History Insider Tips, the best test prep books for AP United States History are Kaplan and Barron’s. Just like for the SAT Subject Test in U.S. History, Kaplan’s study guide is comprehensive, and Barron’s is very readable. Both will be great for making PERSIA charts, which I explained in the previous post as well.
5. Answer every multiple choice question, even if you have no idea
Unlike on the SAT Subject Test in U.S. History, there is no penalty for wrong answers on the AP U.S. History exam. Even if you have absolutely no idea, mark an answer to each and every multiple choice question. There’s no down side to doing so, and who knows, you might guess right!
Steve R. holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, where he majored in History, African and Afro-American Studies, and Politics. He earned departmental honors in History, and his senior thesis, Black Jesus in the Twentieth Century, was published in 2011. He currently works at Brandeis University in Development and Alumni Relations, where he helps to run many of the University’s Annual Giving programs. Steve has experience tutoring AP, SAT, ACT, United States history, and writing, and he has helped students with their college admissions essays. –
Are you taking the AP US History Subject Test? Any questions or additional tips you’d like to share?
By Steve R., US History SAT Subject Test Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
Preparing for the SAT Subject Test in United States history can be a bit daunting. There are so many details, dates, people, laws, and trends in American history that it’s almost impossible to know where to start.
There are 90 multiple choice questions on the Subject Test, and you have 60 minutes to answer them. Here are five tips to help you prioritize your preparation and master the Subject Test format so that you’ll be sure to maximize your score.
Here are five US History SAT Subject Test Tips:
1. Focus on American history since the Constitution
Though the subject matter covered by the United States History SAT Subject Test can go back as far as the Pre-Columbian period, about 80% of the questions will deal with American history since 1790. Specifically, 40% of the questions will come from the period of 1790-1899, and another 40% will come from 1899-present. Though you should thoroughly review pre-1790 material, set it as a low priority in your review.
2. Best prep books: Kaplan and Barron’s
The Kaplan test prep book for the U.S. History Subject Test is very detailed and comprehensive, and is great if you’re being exposed to the material for the first time. The Barron’s prep guide is a bit less comprehensive, but it’s much easier to read and flows very nicely. It’s perfect for someone who has already taken an AP United States history course and is looking to review.
3. PERSIA Charts help a lot with review
As you go through your review book, you should make a PERSIA chart for each unit. PERSIA stands for Politics, Economics, Religion, Society, Intellectual, and Artistic. As you read each chapter, place key terms into the appropriate section of the PERSIA chart. That way, you have a handy tool to review each chapter and concept, and everything is already in context of era and topic. Also, political and social history typically make up 55%-65% of the questions on the test, so focus on those areas of your PERSIA charts.
4. Don’t wait until the last minute to start test prep
Even if you’ve taken a rigorous AP U.S. History class, give yourself at least two months to prepare. The SAT Subject Test in U.S. History is very detail-oriented, and details you covered in class in October may not stick in your brain until May. Give yourself plenty of time to review each chapter and era carefully, make PERSIA charts, and review those a few times. Take plenty of practice tests to get your pacing techniques down. As a reminder, there are 90 multiple choice questions and you have 60 minutes to answer them. The best way to get faster is to practice, so make practice tests a big part of your preparation!
5. Only take educated guesses
If you’ve taken the SAT, you know that there is a penalty for wrong answers. The same applies to SAT Subject Tests. There are 5 answer choices for each question, and generally speaking, if you can eliminate 1 of them, you should take a guess. If you can eliminate 2 or 3, then definitely take a guess. If you have taken U.S. History in school, and you have prepared rigorously for the Subject Test, then you have at least been exposed to everything that is going to be on the test. You know more than you think you know, so don’t be afraid to take educated guesses!
Steve R. holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, where he majored in History, African and Afro-American Studies, and Politics. He earned departmental honors in History, and his senior thesis, Black Jesus in the Twentieth Century, was published in 2011. He currently works at Brandeis University in Development and Alumni Relations, where he helps to run many of the University’s Annual Giving programs. Steve has experience tutoring SAT, ACT, United States history, and writing, and he has helped students with their college admissions essays.
Have questions about the SAT US History Subject Test? Any other tips you’d like to share?
By Alexa M., SAT Math Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
This question comes up regularly, and the short answer is: it doesn’t matter. Take whichever test you feel you can do well on. Really. Even MIT does not require that you take the Math 2, though they do insist you take one of the two math tests. Unless you claim on your application that you intend to be a math, physics, or other math-intensive major, your choice of test is unlikely to make a significant difference to your application.
The College Board’s official statement on the matter is: “If you have taken trigonometry or elementary functions (precalculus) or both, received grades of B or better in these courses, and are comfortable knowing when and how to use a scientific or graphing calculator, you should select the Level 2 test. If you are sufficiently prepared to take Level 2, but elect to take Level 1 in hopes of receiving a higher score, you may not do as well as you expect. You may want to consider taking the test that covers the topics you learned most recently, since the material will be fresh in your mind.”
It is useful to be aware of the fact that scores on the two tests are not comparable. Because the Math 2 is taken primarily by those who would describe themselves as “math people”, the overall scores tend to be higher. A 700 on the Math 2 will put you at around the 50th percentile. Fortunately, colleges know this, but it can be a bit of a shock when you receive your scores (especially if you are a self-described “math person”)!
What are the differences between the two tests?
• The Math 1 directly covers plane geometry, which the Math 2 doesn’t cover at all.
• The Math 2 emphasizes a number of major topics that aren’t covered on the Math 1:
o Properties of complex numbers, not just their arithmetic
o Parametric equations
o Polar Coordinates
o Coordinate geometry in three dimensions
o A great deal more trigonometry (graphs of trigonometric functions, radians, Laws of Sines and Cosines, trigonometric equations)
o Standard deviation
If you’ve covered the topics on the Math 2, you may want to sign up for the more advanced test. You can change your mind (and your tutoring!) up to two weeks before the test, so there is no harm in starting to prepare for the Math 2 and then deciding you are not ready for it.
Below is a more detailed chart of the differences between the two tests:
Alexa graduated from Reed College and earned a Master’s degree in math from the University of Pennsylvania. She has tutored students at every age and level from 10 to adult and from basic math through AP calculus, multivariate calculus and beyond.
Are you gearing up for the Math Level 1 or Level 2 Test?
It’s 24 hours until the SAT. This is what to do.
Alexis Avila Founder of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts, gives you Four Tips for The Night Before and 4 Tips for the Morning of SAT Saturday.
1. Pack the stuff that you’ll need for tomorrow
(admission ticket, photo ID, calculator with fresh batteries, two-three sharpened number two pencils with erasers, snacks and water, sweatshirt)
2. Know how to get to the testing site.
3. Eat well and relax tonight. Watch a movie or read. Study vocab only-flashcards or online vocab on quizlet.com
4. Rest and get to bed early
1. Wake up early
2. Grab a breakfast. Nothing too greasy. Waffles, muffins, bagels, cereal (not Lucky Charms ☺)
3. Do a couple of easy math problems to wake up the brain or memorize ten vocab words
4. Leave for the test site early
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Full Word-for-Word Transcription
Tip 4 is rest and get to bed early. Don’t go to bed late. I want you to get
to bed at a reasonable time, maybe even a little earlier than you usually
do. So you can kind of get your body relaxed and fall asleep, and get ample
rest. You are going to need it for tomorrow morning.
Now four tips for Saturday. I want you to wake up early. You are not going
to be too stressed because you’ve already packed your backpack, right? So
you are not going to be scrounging around looking for stuff.
Tip 2, grab a good breakfast. A good breakfast means nothing with too much
fat, nothing with too much sugar because you’re just going to crash and
burn. I want you to grab some waffles, muffins, bagels, some cereal. Don’t
get Lucky Charms. Don’t get eggs and bacon. Save that for after as a
Tip 3 is do a couple of easy math problems to wake up the brain, keep you
sharp. Or you can memorize ten vocabulary words just to kind of get your
brain moving in the morning.
And then Tip number 4, I want you to leave for the test site early. You
don’t want to get there late again. The really late ones will end up in the
worst room, the cold room probably. So just get there early and when I say
early, 15 minutes early.
Everything is going to go well. I wish you good luck and I will talk to you
Are you ready for the SAT? What other questions or comments do you have about last minute preparation?
The college experience is rich in choices. You could be a double major or pursue two minors. After class, you could go to soccer practice, drama club, debate team, or band. You might study abroad one semester—or maybe even two. You could also have a boyfriend or girlfriend on campus, begin mentoring younger students, or spend a lot of time with older ones, just hanging out.
What do all of these different activities hold in common?
They’ll command your attention—and a lot of it.
In fact, it could be pretty easy to graduate just having enjoyed the college experience—and even having excelled at it—without looking beyond, to the next chapter, to contemplate the application of college to your life.
Contemplating what college will mean for you in your mid-twenties, thirties, and beyond might be an idea that seems fairly hazy right now (after all, many of you reading this blog are just doing the hard work to get into college—a major feat in itself). So I’ve thought of five questions you could ask yourself throughout the course of your college career—from day one ‘til your last—to help make this thought process relevant now.
Here we go:
1) What industries are booming now, and which ones are saturated?
Forbes Magazine is a great source for information like this. A quick look at the fastest growing industries may reveal some, like manufacturing or cattle ranching, for example, that you’ve never considered. But these businesses—like most—require communicators, leaders, technicians, and people of all kinds to think outside the box and keep them connected and stable. You wouldn’t need a background in manufacturing or cattle ranching to make a significant contribution. You would need a strong set of skills in one of the abovementioned fields and awareness that these industries are hungry.
It’s equally important to know which industries aren’t as open to job applicants. If you’re planning to pursue one, contemplate what skills to develop to set yourself apart.
2) What are three different types of jobs people who pursued my major have done, or are doing?
Get to know some of those people. Ask if you might email or call them from time to time to understand how what they learned in college is helping them in their current role. Ask them what gaps they had in their learning. Maybe you could take one of the classes they wished they’d taken.
3) What is my elevator pitch?
Can you explain your interests and strengths—and even how you want to apply them to your tentative career goals—in the time it’d take you to ride the elevator a few floors?
You’ll often need to present a similar pitch in job interviews, but more importantly, stating your intentions for your career aloud forces you to clarify them in your own mind. Thoughts that floated around comfortably in your head may come across as phony once spoken.
Sometimes the results of this exercise are surprising, particularly if you let people who know you well weigh in on what you say.
4) Where is the nearest business that’d let me shadow for a day?
Even if you don’t yet know what line of work you’d like to pursue, just getting out of the classroom and into a working environment offers important lessons, including the roles communication skills and thinking ahead play in successfully managing people. You might also learn about new cross-industry technologies that businesses are using—and hope their employees will walk in the door knowing.
Check out a previous post, here, for more details on the values of shadowing: The Importance of Internships & Work Experiences While in High School
5) What are my friends thinking of doing after college?
Though this question could make your friends a little uneasy, it’s ok to ask it. For starters, you’re all most likely in the same boat, especially in the first year or two—without a clear cut vision of just what you’ll do with your college degree. Secondly, hearing your friends think through the process of how they will apply what they will learn may give you some ideas.
Lots of people talk about questions to ask before you get to college—and these are important questions to consider. You want to find a good fit for your four-year journey.
But I propose staying just as inquisitive during your collegiate experience. Doing a little each week so you get comfortable with the hard parts.
Evaluating your efforts regularly as you make your way to graduation will mean you’re not nervous when you get there. You’ll be able to celebrate both the closing of that chapter, and the beginning of the next.
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
What other questions should you ask yourself while at college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
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“Professional, excellent results, very likeable tutor sent.”
It’s December, and if you’re a high school senior, you might be beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. This is the time of year when the college application process is winding down. All the work you’ve done—taking AP courses, studying for the SATs, visiting campuses, applying for financial aid, writing personal statements—is done. Now all you have to do is wait for that acceptance letter, right?
Well, not exactly…
There is something missing from the list above—a subtler effort that could easily be overlooked after the essays are written and scores are in. I’m talking about mental preparation. After all, high school—the place you’ve spent the last few years—is very different from college. Taking some time to anticipate that transition and develop a good attitude will put you heads above the rest as you embark on your college journey.
Consider this, for example: in high school, your parents, teachers and even guidance counselor may have checked in on you to see how your work was going. It probably just seemed like a natural part of the high school process. It also meant that any problems you might have had in a particular class couldn’t grow too big; they were spotted first—and you were helped to overcome them and navigate to success. You may have received affirmation regularly, too, as part of this process.
In college, you’ll be living on your own. In this setting, you’ll be expected to look after yourself—and your work. Your professors may have 20 students per class, or 200. Though it is their responsibility to teach and even inspire you, they cannot look after you individually, nor ensure you pass. They may not also be able to give you the feedback you are used to receiving unless you seek them out (at office hours, for example).
In college then, it is very much up to you to chart your course, and the efforts you make—choices about how much to study, when to seek help, and how creative to get with your projects and assignments—will determine your success. This is both a liberating and exciting prospect, and one that will test your responsibility. To understand its real-life implications better, you might touch base with friends currently in college and ask how they are approaching their day-to-day workload.
Here’s another thought to consider as you prepare for the transition to college: you may have to study more than you did in high school to get the same grades. A lot of young people think about college as an exciting new experience ripe with opportunities for socializing and meeting friends; this is absolutely true, but be prepared for the fact that you could have less free time than you did in high school. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t have time to take part in every mixer or event on the quad. There will be plenty more; trust me.
Speaking of free time, just as you’ll have less supervision in your academic life, you’ll also have less of it in your time outside of class. Nobody will be stopping you from joining 8 clubs, opting not to proofread your paper, forgoing office hours (or class), or making Wednesday night the first night of your weekend. Much of this is true even if you live at home while attending college. I suggest trying to develop some routines—and keeping some basic ideas in mind. As simple as these may sound, they’re key to helping you stay healthy and productive.
1) Eat three times a day.
Let’s face it: the “freshman 15” happens. You’re going to be surrounded by a lot of food at college (at my school, the food was ranked 3rd best in the nation!)
Alternatively, you may feel pressure to look a certain way—tempted to skip a meal or two. Here’s the truth: you cannot think, let alone study, if you do not eat. And thinking and studying is what college is all about! Plus, if you hit three squares, your metabolism will be firing on all cylinders! So make time for meals. (Eating at the college cafeteria is also a great time to meet people.)
2) Join clubs. But don’t overbook yourself.
One of the most exciting aspects of college is the different array of activities available. (My freshman year, apart from cross country and track, I did dance, wrote for the school newspaper, joined the Skeptical Chemists, and participated in a service fraternity. It was a blast; I felt like I was getting to know so many of my strengths, but in the end, with school and sports, it was a lot. I backed down to two extracurricular activities and dug into those with a passion. I still met loads of people and felt a satisfying balance between academics and outside activities).
3) Find your professors’ offices.
Put their office hour schedule in your phone, and check in now and then. And definitely check in if you’re feeling foggy about your work. Professors aren’t just teachers; they are life-long friends and advisors. I still correspond with many of mine today. That time at office hours was a great place to get to know them.
4) Prepare to be a roommate.
It may be trying at times; you could have a roommate who doesn’t share much in common with you (including a sleep schedule)—or dorm members who think your room is the best place to hang into the wee hours of the night.
Few experiences challenge your people skills and personal development more than living with a roommate. Think about how you’ve handled compromise in past (you’ll likely have to do it again with the person sharing your room). Prepare to do it in this situation, and don’t be discouraged when the need to compromise arises; it’s part of the college experience. (And you’ll certainly encounter people with whom you have differences later in life, including possibly your spouse!)
5) Find a quiet study place.
This may or may NOT be your dorm room.
6) If you feel peer pressure, you won’t be alone.
This is common on college campuses. And as cliché as it sounds, if something feels really wrong to you, don’t do it. Opportunities will abound for you to get out there, explore, and find your niche.
Amid it all, keep this in mind, college is perhaps most exhilarating in the sense that every day you’re there, you are shaping your future; every class you choose and club you attend is building your knowledge and your network. Because you are in the driver’s seat, you need to step back and think “big picture” now and then. It’s your job to ask yourself if your approach is leading you in a direction, towards a career, where you want to go. And while there’s a lot riding on the way you spend your time, I wholeheartedly believe you can have a great time—socialize, go out, take part in Greek life—and still be on top of your academics.
As you gear up for college then, recognize that it will feel very different because it is very different. Make the conscious decision now to keep your head on your shoulders and to be mindful of how your choices could shape not just your week, but your life. In the end, I guarantee it’ll lower your stress level during your first year, and mean you have had a really rich experience by the time you collect your degree.
How did you get yourself mentally ready for college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
When you’re college-bound, here’s one question you can be sure to hear.
“What are you planning to study?”
Questions about your major will continue when you enter college—deviating slightly if you’re undecided (“Ok, well, which way are you leaning?”), and becoming more persistent if you remain undecided through sophomore year (“Have you at least narrowed it down?”)
The questions don’t stop after you’ve obtained your degree; in many a job interview, the topic of your major surfaces, and early. And even at social gatherings, “What did you study in college?” is a common line of inquiry for people getting to know one another.
In short, the choice of a college major is one that society, and employers, find defining. It is your commitment not only to a particular area of study, but also to a relevant career, and it says a lot about you (perhaps even more than you’d say about yourself).
If you’re a high school junior or senior, and you’re not yet confident about what area of study you’d like to pursue in college, don’t fret. You have plenty of time. (In fact, some would say declaring your major early, at the time of college enrollment, limits your opportunity to experiment and explore different fields, including ones about which you’ve never heard).
On the other hand, just because a college major is a college pursuit doesn’t mean freshman year is when you should get serious about contemplating the field of study you’ll make your own. You can start now.
How, you might ask?
Contemplating your interests in terms of a career is a great place to start. In a previous blog post, I talked about how high school is a valuable time to shadow professionals in different fields. If you’ve had some of these experiences and know, for example, that you’re interested in engineering, talk to individuals in this profession. Ask them which major they pursued. (Note that the link between college major and career path is not always direct. Engineers, for example, often pursue majors in specialty areas, like mechanical or civil engineering. But in some cases, they may have majored in seemingly unrelated topics, recognized they were good problem solvers—a huge part of the job of an engineer—and gone on to pursue engineering-focused coursework either as part of their college experience, or after. The path to arrive at a career can vary, but it will undoubtedly contain certain key elements. Get to know what those are by talking to people in the field that interests you about their education.)
Stepping back a bit, if you haven’t yet established your interests in terms of a career, take the opportunity to be proactive. Bear in mind what you’ve enjoyed, and think critically about where you’ve excelled. These experiences provide a guidepost; you will undoubtedly do good work if you enjoy what you are doing—so incorporate established interests in your freshman class schedule.
Meanwhile, because you often don’t have to choose a major until the end of your sophomore year, your coursework during this time can comprise a diverse range. Carpe diem! And as you take a variety of classes, don’t fret that you’re “wasting” time; you’ll earn credits that count toward your degree, no matter your major. (Do keep in mind that some majors—like biochemistry—require numerous courses taken in a specific order. Embarking on one these after your first year might mean you’ll take a little longer to complete your degree. However, even before you formally declare what you plan to major in, you can begin taking classes in a particular field.)
If you sign up for a schedule that is jam-packed but you’d still like to slip into that finance course to see if the material sparks your interest, be open to auditing; ask the professor if you can sit in—without doing homework, taking tests, or getting credit, but giving yourself a chance to hear course discussions.
The key throughout this process is to be hands-on; sign up for classes you know you’ll enjoy, as well as classes that may be completely foreign to you. Go the extra mile to have additional academic opportunities. It’s all about collecting the information you need to help you make your choice. One thing to consider as part of this process is that those who don’t seek immediate satisfaction tend to find lasting satisfaction; some courses (say, statistics) might not excite you at first blush, but the overall degree they will earn can open the door to some pretty exciting careers.
Lastly, recognize that if there is a course of study you’d really like to pursue but it is not available as a traditional major, you might be able to work with college faculty to create an individualized one. In this scenario, you select a theme and then develop it with courses from a number of different traditional major tracks.
When choosing a major, not only do you have to contemplate your interests and strengths (something you can begin to do in high school), and put yourself in fields of study that inspire you to learn. It could also be helpful to think a bit farther ahead—to critically evaluate job needs today, in this country, and abroad. It’s equally important to contemplate challenges you might face once you’ve got gotten your degree and are pursuing a certain job (something those in your field of interest could speak to). For example, it may be that more and more hospitals are looking for doctors who specialize in a particular area, or speak a particular language. In identifying job needs and challenges early on, you can work to equip yourself with a desirable skill set—one that will make you truly competitive.
I would also note that a college major does not align directly with a particular job. A history major could run a business, just as an historian could have studied physics, for his/her major. But in the end, the intensity you put on certain studies will dictate your appeal as you apply for jobs.
What was your major in college? Did you pursue a related career with that major?