Columbia College | Columbia Engineering

Student Advising

Major Myths and Misconceptions

Myth: The major I choose will determine my career options

The selection of an undergraduate major may not determine a lifelong career, but may be a first step on a path toward future choices. Columbia Engineers are prepared to do more than work as engineers. With a strong foundation in math, grounding work in the physical and engineering sciences, and experiences with research, internships, and advanced technical coursework, CE students are prepared to enter any number of graduate programs and professional fields. Students also benefit from their foundation in the liberal arts in sharpening such transferable skills as critical and analytical thinking, writing, reasoning, and presenting.

Myth: I need to major in Financial Engineering to go to business school / Biomedical Engineering to go to medical school

Students do not need a specific undergraduate major to gain admission to professional schools in business, law, or medicine. While it is extremely important to research the pre-requisites that might be necessary to enter graduate programs such as medicine and other health fields, engineering students should feel confident that their coursework will prepare them to meet the requirements of most professional schools. Overall, it is not the major that determines readiness for graduate programs; required courses, quantitative abilities, writing skills, and work experience all contribute to a strong applicant profile.

Myth: Taking the professional level course is the only way to learn about different majors and departments

 Taking an introductory course is one way to choose a particular major but may not be the only way. Take advantage of Open Houses, Departmental events, and presentations in Gateway, and talk to faculty members and fellow students in order to learn more about the field, graduate programs, and research and career opportunities. Also note that, though the professional level course is ideally an introduction to the major, it may not provide as much focus on specialized topics as you would find later as a declared major in the department.

Myth: I can't choose just one major because there are so many things that interest me

Students can take electives, pursue independent projects, find internships, and assume volunteer and leadership positions to diversify experience. While your curricular foundation will be extremely important to any technical field you might select, the opportunities you pursue outside the classroom will be no less critical to the direction you choose. Independent projects and research experience will encourage focus and expertise. Leadership positions such as class council and resident advisor positions will speak to the level of responsibility you can handle.

Myth: The major I choose will be my sole academic focus for the rest of my undergraduate career

Choosing one major may not mean giving up all other fields of study. CE students have a wonderful opportunity to choose from a variety of minors both in engineering and in the liberal arts; this gives them a structured means to diversify their curriculum.

Myth: The more majors and minors I combine, the more marketable I will be

Sometimes choosing too many majors/minors may leave a student with lots of structure, not much flexibility, and no additional marketability. Think carefully about your goals and opportunity costs before deciding whether or not to double minor or pursue a combined degree program.

As you can see, choosing a major is only one step toward deciding on a career or even carving out a niche for yourself here at Columbia. Elective courses, outside research, and student activities will also help you explore career options and diversify your undergraduate experience. Of course, it is still important to make an educated and thoughtful decision about your major, taking into consideration your current interests and abilities as well as the resources available to you.

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