Daniel Aguirre knows what it’s like to start college without a clear path of study. A transfer student, he was thinking about communications, then changed to teaching. “There were so many things that I thought I wanted to do. At one point, I even thought I wanted to be a dancer,” he jokes.
This spring, as accepted students to Montclair State University make their college decisions, many transfer students as well as incoming first-year students, are grappling with the same issues that Aguirre sorted through.
“I won’t lie and say that it’s going to be easy,” says Aguirre, a senior who eventually chose a path he loves, a new offering in the School of Communication and Media, Social Media and Public Relations. “It is a journey and sometimes it takes some thinking about and evaluating what you really want to do. I advise students, ‘Do what you love, not what other people want you to do.’”
Choosing a major is among the most important decisions a college student will make, and Montclair has a large team of advisors and staff dedicated to helping them find the right fit. For the past five years, University College – the first and still the only program in New Jersey that supports undergraduates – has helped more than 3,100 students successfully declare their major.
University College took over the gymnasium in the Student Recreation Center on March 21 with a special sports-theme event called “Major Madness,” a full-court press to showcase Montclair’s 300 different majors, minors, concentrations and certificate programs.
The event is a catalyst for students to decide upon or declare a major, with 60-75% of University College major declarations each academic year occurring in the spring semester. A number of students took the opportunity to declare their majors to the cheers of University College staff dressed as basketball referees.
Gio Carluccio, a freshman, was among the students who made their decision, choosing one of Montclair’s newest majors, Recording Arts and Production within the John J. Cali School of Music. “It feels so surreal to be choosing a major today,” he said. “I’m excited to see what’s in store.”
In declaring this field, Carluccio says he was following his heart as he enjoys creating music at home. It wasn’t the path his parents initially encouraged him to follow, but he says they’ve been supportive of his choice.
“A lot of times students don’t realize that some of the extracurriculars they are involved in or are passionate about are things that could turn into careers and majors,” says University College Academic Advisor Johayra “Joy” Granados-Roldán.
Talking about those passions is the beginning of the process in helping students discover their path. “When I meet with my students, I review with them things that they may not even realize that could potentially be a career,” Granados-Roldán says. That includes talking about the activities they enjoy and providing assessments that lead to tracks of study.
“Students are sometimes just aware of the options that are within their personal network,” adds Academic Advisor Hope Kremer. “They know teaching is an option. They know business as an option. Maybe a parent is a police officer. They typically think of those things and they rarely think outside of the box just because they don’t know that those options exist.”
In talking with their students, the advisors ask them to share their life goals – and also their values. For Inioluwa Obafemi, a freshman who declared Medical Humanities at the Major Madness event, that meant recognizing that his interest in science wasn’t following a traditional path of working in labs or being a doctor. “In my own way I know I want to help people,” he says.
Ang Figueroa, a senior, came to the same decision when she switched majors from Biology to Medical Humanities, a program she discovered at a University College “Crash-a-Class” event, which allows students to sit in on select courses to see what they’re like. In Medical Humanities, Figueroa says, she discovered a field more aligned with her goals to increase the accessibility of health care.
“A lot of students who come to us say, ‘I really want to do X but my parents say I need to be a doctor or a nurse, an engineer or what have you, because their family equates certain occupations with success,” Granados-Roldán says.
Aguirre, a Hispanic first-generation college student, understands that pressure. “Even today, I’m still educating my parents about the world out there of social media and what public relations people do,” he says. “But at the end of the day, it’s about educating your supporters and letting them know that you’re picking your major because that’s what you love to do. If it makes you happy, if it makes you feel good, that’s all that matters,” Aguirre says.
“Well, at least to me that’s all that matters.”
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