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Friday, September 25, 2009

Dear Mr. Bradshaw -- I'm a sophomore in college and have to choose a major. I'm not sure what the job market will be like after I graduate. If it continues to be bad, I might go to law school.

With that goal in mind, do you have any suggestions on a good major? My roommate is applying to medical school, and her biology major was an easy decision. But I haven't taken any subjects with a career goal in mind. I have taken most of my classes because they interest me. Shifting direction at this point is a serious decision. Can you help? -- No major.

Good major is one that suits student's goals



Dear No Major -- It used to be that a well-educated man or women was a generalist. A few economics or history classes, mixed with a general studies major, and that was about all that was needed to find a good job on Wall Street or Main Street.

Today, things have changed dramatically. After canvassing my clients, here is my advice: Don't pick a major just because it is easy. Go out on a limb; pick a challenging one if you think you might like the subject.

There always is a mix of classes with any major, and you'll likely find a few that at least will balance out the harder ones. If you are serious about law school, a few clients suggested you go one more step and take a double major. If you enjoy history, for example, why not add a second major such as economics? Economics requires a strong quantitative component. History requires a lot of writing. Both skills are highly valued in the job market and by potential law schools.

Even if you go to work after graduation, you'll most likely decide on law school at a later date, and what you gain by taking harder classes will pay off when you take the law school entrance examination (LSAT). A double major, or even a single major with a strong concentration in a secondary subject, will make you that much more competitive.

But be careful. Some majors are easier to multi-task than others. Engineering requires so many prerequisites that it might not leave room for a second major or even a minor area of concentration, much less a foreign language.

Majors that require many prerequisites, such as math or science, might not leave much room for experimentation, which is something to think about before you declare. That is why planning classes is more important than in the past.

And don't forget to take a foreign language. Languages are more important than ever in our increasingly diverse society. Employers are thinking several years down the line. They want new employees to be prepared.

Another issue to consider when deciding on a major is class size. Do you like large lecture classes or small seminars? Both have their pros and cons.

Small classes make it easier to be recognized, and there is more opportunity to interact. Larger classes tend to be a beehive of students sitting in a large lecture hall. But that doesn't always mean you'll be ignored. Most large lecture courses break up into small sections at least twice a week. Usually, there are not more than 15 students per section.

There is plenty of time to get to know the teaching assistant (a graduate student). In many cases, he or she will offer special insights into the program -- including grad school and job prospects -- you wouldn't get from a professor.

My decision to take a double major was partly the result of getting to know the teaching assistants. I got to know my way around the departments much faster. Without their help, it wouldn't have been possible. Either way you decide, don't let colleges discourage you from taking a double major or from designing a unique major not offered in the course catalog.

Counselors are notorious for discouraging students by telling them they will have to take the lower division prerequisites for both majors in order to get approval. These tend to include the dreaded "methods" courses that are the least popular classes. In fact, if you visit the deans of the respective departments, in related majors such as political science and sociology, it is possible that one set of perquisites will satisfy the other.

Let me add a positive note by stressing there is no single "best" major to take in preparation for law school. The better law schools do not rank majors. So feel free to study English, math, history or even engineering. The only exception is that most top law schools warn undergraduates against taking "vocational" type classes such as business or accounting.

Harvard Law School warns that admission to its program is inversely proportional to the number of these classes on applicants' transcripts.

So, you see, there is no need to cater to professional schools by selecting the "right" major. It is sufficient that you enjoy what you study.

Gerald M. Bradshaw of Crown Point consults with students on how to gain admission to selective colleges, universities and law schools. Contact him at www.bradshawcollege consulting.com or call 866-687-8129. His e-mail is gerald_ bradshaw@post.harvard.edu.



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