4 Things to Know about Majors

1.  Education is about exploration.

Our undergraduate curriculum will expose you to the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. This is a time when you can explore different disciplines and personal interests and then make decisions about where to focus your studies for greater depth. Try to discover what makes you tirelessly fascinated. Our goal is to teach you how to think critically from multiple perspectives, communicate effectively, analyze information and creatively solve problems.

Keep in mind, there’s more to exploration than taking an intro class and deciding you love or hate a discipline. Ask questions and talk to your professors and other students. Talk with advisors, career counselors and get connected to Duke alumni who majored in the field you are considering. All these people have insight to share with you.

2.  A major doesn’t lock you into (or out of) a career path.

You are likely to have several jobs - if not several careers - over your lifetime. In fact, many of you may enter careers that do not even exist right now. A liberal arts education is not simply career training, although it does provide that. It is about creating a foundation for a fulfilling life with direction, purpose and meaning. Take a look at our alumni survey for proof of all the places Duke students end up.

So what does that mean? It’s logical to think that medical schools demand only biology majors or that law schools want applicants from political science—and those majors are absolutely valuable. But admissions profiles from graduate and professional schools tell a different, more holistic story. Those institutions and future employers want flexible, adaptable intellect. They want people who have been exposed to a broad range of knowledge and trained in rigorous critical thinking. Your exact major is much less important. They want students who can think analytically, read critically, and write persuasively. It is important to understand that fields such as music, literature, philosophy or history can help you understand the world and provide the foundation for a life of critical inquiry, grounded reasoning and sophisticated analysis.

3.  Relax, you don’t have to pick just one.

Did you know that more than 82% of Duke students double major, minor or earn a certificate? You can truly mix and match courses and programs to create an educational experience that suits your distinctive interests. You can also take advantage of service-learning, student clubs, global education, undergraduate research, internship opportunities, and more.

Pair your lifelong interest in theater or dance with economics or cultural anthropology. Augment your passion for math with art history and music. Explore sociology and biology, learn a foreign language and study and conduct research abroad. The opportunities are endless.

A successful liberal arts education develops your capability for innovation and for judgment. The habits developed through your studies will create the focus and flexibility that make for intelligent, courageous risk taking and critical analysis.

4.  Listen to others, but also to yourself.

No particular major or area of study is inherently a better ticket to security, leadership or personal satisfaction than another. Ask around and you’ll find that many people never worked in the field of their major. Instead, you will hear about surprising and unexpected twists and turns in life that ultimately brought them to a career choice that “fits” them.

So when choosing a major, follow your passions and interests and take in everything Duke has to offer. Consider combining a major, minor or certificate—but don’t just chase credentials! Invest in yourself to discover what you love to do. Take time to create a life script: a path that makes sense for you, not just while you are at Duke but that will serve you well for years to come. Develop your ability for continuous learning so that you become adept at anticipating and dealing with change. You will gain marketable skills and be well prepared to take the next steps in your life path after graduation, whether that means entering the job market, starting your own business, pursuing more education, or any other choice.