As you begin (or get more immersed in) your college search process, inevitably a topic you’re sure to deal with consistently is: “What do I want to study/major in?” This question is at the forefront of how many admission offices and high school counselors begin to initially explore “fit” for you. The question starts out quite general: “What do you like to study?” But, as many of you know already, the questions become far more direct and specific in a hurry. Answer “science” and you’re sure to be asked, “What kind of science? Biology? Chemistry? Physics?” and so on. Answer “biology” and you’re sure to be asked, “Do you like plants? Environmental science? Maybe you want to be a doctor? Are you looking into pre-med? Oooh! Oooh! Do you like animals? Maybe veterinary sciences?” You get the gist.
As institutions have worked to meet the challenges of increasingly narrower career fields, college majors have begun to take on increasingly more-specific names to serve these niches. In the locker room before your upcoming basketball game, as you’re having both ankles taped, you may realize, “I might be interested in being this person for a professional basketball team someday.” So how do you identify what degree prepared the trainer for that position? Depending on the school, you may be looking for athletic training, exercise science, movement science, kinesiology, physical therapy, etc. The list goes on and on.
Exploring the differences between related college majors
How close is close enough when it comes to choosing a college major which will accomplish your necessary career preparedness? Is there a large difference between "kinesiology" and "movement science"? Why do some schools offer three or four of these majors separately? I field these questions constantly from students and families investigating their academic options. This can be a frustrating part of the search process. If your cousin works for a newspaper designing their graphics and went to school for "graphic design," do you eliminate every school you see that doesn’t list "graphic design" as a major? What if a school houses "graphic design" under "communications"? Or "art"? Is "visual arts” the same as “graphic design,” or is it a completely separate program and career field?
Have questions? Just ask!
There’s no easy way to decipher this; it requires you to ask the right questions to the right people. If you don’t see a major you’re interested in studying listed on a school’s website, ask if it has a different program title. Many institutions offer very similar programs of study even if they aren’t always “housed” under the same academic department. When inquiring about whether or not an institution has the specific program of study you need for a particular career path, consider these options:
- Ask for the opportunity to speak to a faculty member in the program.
- Ask about the courses offered, if the program prepares students to get into your desired career path, and if there are relevant internships, observation hours, and/or hands-on experiences already in-place for students to increase their marketability.
- Ask admission representatives (or career services representatives when available) if there are recent graduates who have landed a similar job to the one you’re interested in.
- Ask individuals who are already in the career you’re interested in what they had to do get into the field.
Learning the prerequisites and requirements for your potential career path is a great way to identify if the programs you’re considering—regardless of the names—are the right fit for your career goals.
Related: Questions to Ask Before, During, and After Your College Visit
As with many aspects of the college search process, it also never hurts to do some online research. Using search engines to find similar names for a degree program or to research the requirements to become a professional in a given career field can help guide your path. The more research you can do ahead of time (whether that be conversations with individuals in the profession, online research, job shadowing, etc.), the better understanding you’ll have of what academic background you need to accomplish your professional goals. With that knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to decipher what academic programs are right for you.
For more tips, visit our Majors and Academics section!