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Exploring Potential Majors

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There are many things you can do to explore a major and see whether it feels right for you. Check out the steps below for some ideas. Of course, your Academic Advisor is always happy to talk through this decision with you as well.

Explore Your Interests

  • Browse the Majors site to see what majors look interesting and what are some good courses you can take to learn more about them.
  • Take an introductory class in the field. IntroSems are great, as well as this list of carefully chosen frosh-friendly courses. These classes can give you some insight into the topics, methods, and materials important to that field.
  • Enroll in a 1-unit class. Even if you cannot fit a regular introductory class into your schedule, many departments offer 1 unit lecture series courses with few or no prerequisites that can still be quite useful in exploring a major.
  • Browse the faculty profiles on the department website to see if the range of topics and approaches in that major interests you. You can read some of the research your professors have published to learn more.
  • Read some nonfiction bestsellers written for a general audience in that field. Then read scholarly reactions to them. (Ask a librarian how to find these.)
  • Engage in research in the field. Whether it's a summer-long program or a short commitment during the academic year, a research experience can provide an excellent view into a potential major.

Attend Events

Visit SURPS and ASURPS

The Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Public Service is a great place to go to learn more about particular majors. Held over Reunion Homecoming Weekend (SURPS) and Admit Weekend (ASURPS), the two symposia are huge poster session events where Stanford undergraduates present their research, arts, senior synthesis, and public service projects to the broader university community. This is an excellent moment to talk to juniors and seniors about their experiences working with their faculty mentors on their projects. Right now, you are probably taking fundamental or introductory classes in a potential major. SURPS will give you a sense of how you might build on those foundations down the road. Every major has its own way of asking questions, and SURPS will showcase the way your fellow students are starting to ask more advanced questions in their chosen disciplines. There are no formal presentations, so you can drop in anytime and browse the student posters, asking questions as you see a topic that catches your interest.

Talk to People

  • Meet the Student Services Officer of the department you're interested in, or talk to the peer advisors in the department - they are a great starting point for any questions.
  • Attend a pre-major luncheon, dinner, or info session. Tip: You may want to get on the department’s interest, pre-major, or events email list to learn about these. Your Academic Advisor may also include information about such opportunities in their weekly newsletter.
  • Visit office hours for a professor whose research interests you, and ask them to recommend a book or if you can see their lab. Or ask them how they decided to commit to that field.
  • Do “informational interviews” with alumni in that major. (BEAM can give you tips on finding alumni and setting these up; Handshake has suggestions on how to conduct them.)
  • Find out what advanced students are doing in the major. Places to look: SURPS and ASURPS, where students from all disciplines present their current and recent academic projects, showcasing the diversity of topics, approaches, and interests at Stanford. Some departments also share thesis abstracts or presentation videos on their website, or ask the SSO/peer advisors if you can see examples of past theses.

Research Major Requirements

  • If a particular major sounds promising, you can research its requirements by visiting the Stanford Bulletin and clicking on "Programs."  In the search bar, type in the name of the major (e.g. “Sociology”).  You will see several different degree options for that field of study.  Click on either the Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) option, then scroll down to "Degree Requirements" to see the requirements for that major.
  • In addition, individual department websites often list their major requirements on one of their subpages.  The School of Engineering has also gathered information on all of its majors into an online resource called the Engineering Undergraduate Handbook.  The requirements should be the same across all these sites, but are sometimes explained in a more accessible way in one place versus another.
  • You may also want to review the chart  that provides an overview of Undergraduate Major Unit Requirements.  A major that requires 100 units will be a very different experience than a major that requires 65 units, and will change the amount of free time you have to pursue opportunities like study abroad or your extracurriculars.
  • Consider how the required coursework aligns with your interests.  Are you excited to take these courses, or do some of them make you feel apprehensive?  If you are feeling uncertain about the requirements for a particular major, keep in mind that there may be alternate majors that would allow you to pursue the same interest through a slightly different lens.
  • Make a couple of four-year plans that fulfill all major and university requirements. Pay attention to prerequisites and what quarter courses are offered. Assess whether your schedule seems compelling and manageable.

See Also

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