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UI Career Center helping students with undeclared majors

BY CASSIDY RILEY | FEBRUARY 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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Many students enter the University of Iowa unsure of what their next four years will hold. However, one newly created program may help these students find a path to follow.

The UI Career Center recently launched a new program called Find Your Focus this semester, designed to help students who have declared an open major to explore their options and potentially settle on a specific path.

Open major was the most popular major among first-year students in the fall of 2012, with 16 percent of first-year students declaring it. Among the entire undergraduate population, 5.4 percent of students were open majors in fall 2012. The number of students unsure about what they want to study prompted the Find Your Focus program.

“[Open major students] need more of a sense of guidance in beginning their career exploration,” said Alicia Joens, career adviser.

The program includes four steps that are designed to answer four basic questions: who am I, what are my possibilities, who can help me, and how can I try it. For each checkpoint, students will complete different steps such as attending a career fair or finding contacts in the field that interests the student.

Joens said the hope by the end of the program is that the student will know what they want to do and can meet with a career advisor for the specific major the student chooses and get started.

“The hope is that at the end of the program they will have a sense of, ‘Yeah this is the major I want to pursue,’ ” she said.

First-year student Morgan Marsh, an open-major who has gone through the Find Your Focus Program, said it helped her narrow her interests, but she is not yet decided.

Marsh is deciding between being a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, speech pathology, and nursing.

Michelle Cohenour, UI director of retention, said it is important to assist open majors because when students don’t know what they want to do, they are more likely to leave the university. Of the students who left after the fall semester, 11 percent said it was because of an undecided major.

“For students who say, ‘I’m an open major,’ when they talk to students who have a clear plan, [it] can sometimes be unsettling,” Cohenour said.

Marsh said she has shared in this feeling herself.

“I definitely feel pressured to declare a major,” Marsh said. “I definitely feel like everyone else has already chosen their path.”

Cohenour said open major students can sometimes feel like everyone has their future figured out except for them and that this new program will help students see that as long as they are being active in their major search, they can figure things out too.

Maureen Schafer, associate director of the Academic Advising Center, said some open majors need more time to explore than others before they can be ready for a program like Find Your Focus.

“You have to be ready, and you have to be motivated,” she said. “Some people need to experience college first. First-year students learn a lot about themselves in their first semester of college.”

For those who are ready, Schafer said, she foresees the Advising Center making a good number of referrals for students to the program.

“Sometimes, there’s this idea that open majors are completely clueless, but what we find is that open majors are really diverse and that often, open majors have narrowed their interests to maybe three interests or careers,” she said. “The work they need to do is narrow that list down to which one they really want to pursue. I think that there will be particular students who we’re going to refer to this program.”


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