How is a college set up (i.e., structured)? When you are ready to start doing something new, it only makes sense that you understand how that something is designed. For example, if you buy a new cell phone you should know (at least) something about the phone’s set up. This will not only make your life easier, but will save you a lot of time and potential heartache if something goes wrong. Believe it or not, college is no different. When you start college it is critical that you understand how things work on campus. Otherwise, you will join the ranks of many other undergraduates wondering what to do and where to go. You can always ask friends and relatives, but quite honestly these individuals often have the wrong answer. Or, what can happen is that your parents will give you an answer about something, but what was true for them 20 years ago when they went to college simply is not the way things work now.
Let’s start at the beginning. When you go to college you have multiple affiliations. That is, each student in college is connected to several units. First, you become a member of a department that manages your major. A major involves concentrated study of a specialty area. These specialty areas are referred to as “disciplines”. In this way, Psychology is a discipline. Similarly, disciplines include English, Hispanic Studies, Economics, Mechanical Engineering…I think you get the picture! I should note that it is possible to have two majors–a “double-major”.
Second, everyone declares a major, but you might also decide to minor in another discipline. The distinction between a major and a minor is pretty self-explanatory, but just to be sure you follow a major is what you are most interested in, while a minor is typically a side interest you have or another discipline that complements your major. For example, you might choose to be a Psychology major (the study of the human mind and behavior), but minor in Sociology (the study of human society, with a specific interest in the changing relationships among individuals and groups). Psychology and Sociology study different issues, but they are clearly related—both study how humans behave.
Third, your career interests may not match a specific major. For example, you may be interested in Medicine, Dentistry or Law). You should understand that there is not a major (e.g., “medical doctor” major) for any of the careers just listed. Instead, you will choose a major in another subject, often directly related to Medicine, Dentistry, Physical therapy (e.g., Biology) or Law (e.g., Political Science). After graduating with your undergraduate degree you will then apply to a specific “professional school” to get a graduate degree. We should add, however, that for all of these fields times have changed quite a bit and you do not necessarily have to major in a directly-related field. In fact, you can major in anything as long as the courses you take meet the requirements of the Medical School, Dental School, or Law School you would like to attend.
We’ll talk more about the structure of college in my next post.