Entering College with an Undeclared Major

There is a common misconception that students should know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives the moment they step foot on their college campus. In actuality, a large portion of students enter college with an undeclared major or have little to no idea what career path they want to follow and use their college experience to figure it out along the way. I like to think Kalamazoo College’s K-Plan works best for students who are unsure of what they want to do, because it allows for a little trial and error with minimal consequences. The K-Plan is built to prepare you for what’s next, and one important piece of that is to give you opportunities to explore with the support of the institution behind you.

Jessica Williams     Admission Counselor

Let’s take a look at the first component of the K-Plan Depth and Breadth in Liberal Arts. At Kalamazoo College, students do not officially declare their major until the middle of their sophomore year. Although some students are very certain what they want to major in, we encourage everyone to take different kinds of classes and explore different departments. By the time you declare your major, you will have taken fifteen classes. That’s fifteen opportunities to figure out what you like and we hope by then you land on one (or two!) department(s) you want to major in. One question I always get when I say this is “But will I still graduate on time? I REALLY don’t know what I want to major in”. Yes, you will still graduate on time *Hears sigh of relief from every senior around the world*. With our open curriculum and minimal requirements, time to explore different areas of study is built into a 4-year graduation plan.

In the same vein, there are students who know what they want to study, but they do not know how they can turn their interest into a career. Many people have grown up with the notion that there are three major career paths – doctor, lawyer, and teacher – and feel a little out of place when they come to the realization that their passion does not perfectly align with any of these careers. Kalamazoo College has an externship program called Discovery, and just as the name implies, it provides students with the opportunity to discover a variety of career paths as early as the end of their freshman year. Students get the chance to take a glimpse at what their life can look like 5, 10, or 30 years from now and are able to decide whether this is something they want to pursue before diving deep into a major. The ability to see a variety of career possibilities helps our students find a career path that is right for them early in their undergraduate career.

In short, I know walking into college not knowing what you want to do can seem scary, but the K-Plan provides you the space to ask questions, explore, and grow, so that you can be successful and thrive at anything you decide to do.

Jessica Williams, Admission Counselor

Student Spotlight: The Chemist with A Passion for Music

Student: Bryan Lara ’17bryan lara

Hometown: Anaheim, CA

I’ve known Bryan since freshman year when we were in College Singers, one of the student choirs on campus. When I found out Bryan was majoring in the sciences, I was a little surprised. He was so involved in the music department that I assumed he was a music major.

Now, we are seniors and I have gotten to know Bryan very well. I see him now as just another K student with opposing majors and minors, because that’s just the kind of school Kalamazoo is. So I sat down to talk with him about his academic life at Kalamazoo, and how that has in turn influenced the rest of his time here at K.

What’s your major? Or majors?

Ok, so I am a Bio—wait no I’m not—sorry. I am a chemistry major. I have a biochemistry and molecular biology concentration and I have a minor in music.

Ok, well those first two things make sense together, but the music? How did that get thrown in there?

I’ve been a part of a music program since seventh grade so after high school I realized I didn’t want to let go of music. One of the plus sides about K is you don’t have to be a music major or minor to be affiliated with the ensembles and take classes, so I decided to do both fall quarter freshman year. That was when I realized I really wasn’t ready to let go. At first I tried to make it a double major, but I wanted to spend more time in the hard sciences so I dropped it to a minor. I was just being realistic and trying not to spread myself too thin but it’s a passion I’ve always had.

How has your chemistry major and the hard sciences impacted your involvement on campus?

I think every quarter varies, but there is that baseline where I know what I can do and what I can’t, and what I can reach for and push myself to do. For example, since I usually take two science classes a quarter that means I know I should split them on which days I take them and when I can be involved in certain organizations. I can think to myself, “I probably can’t be in this club because I have a pre-lab due the next day.” In some ways it’s been restrictive, but in other ways it’s made me join other clubs like SUKUMA (a club for minorities in the hard sciences), which is really nice. I didn’t even know it was a thing until one of my friends was like “there is this club, you should come join!”. It makes me feel like I’m a part of something on this campus that not everybody else is, because the hard science isn’t for everyone. It definitely has positives and negatives but I feel like I made the right choice.

Did you come into K knowing you wanted to be a chemistry major or did that just kind of happen?

When I came in, I knew I wanted to do a hard science. I actually started in biology. Since I’m mostly in the pre-med track, it means you still have to take a lot of chemistry, so originally I declared biology and was just taking chemistry classes. Then I realized that the biology at K isn’t necessarily the biology I really love. I started taking more chemistry almost by accident because I really liked it and I was good at it. It felt natural for me to switch from biology to chemistry. It’s still a hard science, and it’s still pre-med, and I’ve loved my decision. I do my chemistry classes, and sometimes I may be confused out of my mind, but I still enjoy it.

Was it hard to switch from biology to chemistry?

No, because I’m on the pre-med track, the classes line up pretty closely. There were a few, like my ecology class that was just an extra class. So it actually worked out really well.

So, you’re a senior and you completed your SIP (Senior Individualized Project). How was that? Did you do it in your major?

Yeah, I did. It was stressful, but it ended up being worth it. The research I ended up doing was completely different from what I expected. It was definitely a good different because I got to do a lot of stuff that you don’t always realize goes into research. I collected participants, drawing blood samples, preparing the samples. I thought I was just going to be doing the nitty-gritty of what I had to do for my SIP, but no, I did a lot more and my supervisor was actually really supportive, and so was the rest of the chemistry department when I got back on campus in the fall. All of the students are supportive of each other and help each other out with stuff like formatting and editing. Teamwork makes the dream work, guys!

Did you go on study abroad?

Yeah, I did. I went to Ecuador and I did the ecology and ecosystem program for six months.

And what was that like? Was it related to chemistry?   

No, actually I officially decided to be a chemistry major after that program. Before that I was technically a biology major and a chemistry major.

So study abroad was really like a turning point for you in your K career?

Yeah, I was still very on the fence sophomore year and I thought this program would help me decide. Ecology fascinates me, but I have a passion for organic chemistry which most people find odd, since its one of the more difficult kinds of chemistry. That said, the Ecuador program is just phenomenal. You get to do research in the Amazon rain forest and the Galapagos Islands, and it’s just such an experiences that I don’t think many people get to have, and oh my, it was paradise and I loved it.

One last question for you: Why did you pick K?

Well, I applied to 14 different schools when I applied to college. At first I was drawn to Kalamazoo College at a college fair because of the name, but then I ended up really liking what I read about it in the brochures. When I got accepted to schools I started doing visits and after visiting all the schools I felt the most at home at K. Even though it was out of state, which is something I wanted when I was applying to schools, it still felt like home and I was more comfortable here than any other school. Everyone was just so welcoming and nice. I felt like K was a place I could grow since it’s so nurturing. And I always thought I could transfer back to UCLA if I didn’t love it, but I didn’t. Now, I’m a senior and I’m going to be sad to leave come June.

Interview conducted by Isabella Kerivan ’17