Juniors, you may have just started to dig deeper into colleges to which you are applying. You should be exploring schools on your preliminary list through campus visits, on-line research, and speaking with students and alumni. It’s not only important to find a good fit socially but also academically; you should make sure the schools you’re looking at have your possible major (or majors). If you’re undecided, that’s okay! You may not have been exposed to an area that suits you, or perhaps your interests cross multiple fields. The counselors at IvyWise have put together a list of unique or nontraditional majors that are growing in popularity.
Cognitive science is a true interdisciplinary field, spanning linguistics, philosophy, computer science, psychology, neuroscience, and the social sciences. As the University of California, Berkeley explains, the goal of the discipline is to understand “the nature of the mind.” Cognitive science students work with artificial intelligence, using their research to reverse-engineer human thought processes in order to build better machines. Undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego can take part in research that examines how we memorize our environments, in what ways cell phones are distracting, how we perceive body movements, and many other things. Undergrad researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY conduct research on Cognitive Robots and Human and Machine Reasoning. In addition to working on their practical applications, cognitive science majors focus on developing theories of thinking and cognition.
This new major emerged in schools across the country in response to students’ interest in implementing sustainable practices in disciplines as diverse as architecture, chemical engineering, and accounting. Arizona State University created the first School of Sustainability, and other schools around the country have developed their own programs of study (see our article in the April 2010 newsletter for more on schools with a focus on sustainability). Interested in helping with the oil cleanup in the U.S. Gulf? Forbes lists Marine Biodiversity and Conservation as a “hot job” for recent grads. The emergence of job search sites specifically for environmental job listings is a testament to the growing demand for employees who are versed in the practices of environmental sustainability. Forbes encourages students to “become fluent in the language of ‘green’ to make yourself more attractive in any field.”
International Studies and Relations
This major is a great option for students who want to travel the globe and pursue careers in politics, public policy, diplomacy, education, or other related fields. International studies takes into account our world’s growing ethnic, cultural, and political awareness and focuses on developing communication skills, intercultural understanding, and foreign politics. Want to see this major in practice? Check out Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, which offers a cooperative education program (co-op) in which students have the opportunity to live and work abroad at selected institutions, including non-governmental organizations, corporations, and international agencies. Similarly, Johns Hopkins University offers a special accelerated International Studies BA/MA, through the university’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), located in Washington, D.C. If you want to flex your Portuguese language skills or expand your knowledge of Chinese politics, this may be the major for you.
Music Business is a recently established major that allows students to combine their musical interest with a career in business. Students develop their creativity while learning the skills they need to succeed in the business world. Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, offers a Music Business/Management (MB/M) program that highlights the “skills, concepts, and methodologies necessary to manage the legal, financial, artistic, and ethical issues that face the contemporary music business professional.” While students can take courses in their instrument of choice, Berklee MB/M majors can also take Music Publishing or opt for a class on Concert Promotion and Venue Management. If you have a passion for music and want combine it with your interest in business, this major could lead to your ideal career.
This cutting-edge field only recently became available for undergraduates. The demanding field of biotechnology is a subset of biology that involves using live organisms to solve problems in areas such as engineering and medicine. Biotechnology is responsible for creating advancements in medicine such as fertilizer, acetone, and penicillin, among many other things. With a major in biotechnology, you can specialize in any one of a number of sectors, such as health, agriculture, and environmental sustainability. At Rutgers University in New Jersey, biotechnology majors take courses in Molecular Genetics and Methods in Recombinant DNA Technology, which teach students about techniques used in molecular biology. According to MSN and CareerBuilder.com, the fastest growing job from 2008-2018 will be biomedical engineering.
The School of Public Health (SPH) at the University of North Carolina has been educating students in public health for over 70 years, and in recent years has experienced an increase in popularity. Last year students at SPH represented nearly half of the undergraduate freshmen class at UNC (45%). Public health is interdisciplinary by nature and incorporates elements of policy, science, medicine, and psychology. Public health students learn how government actions, education, access to healthcare, and funding factor into the spread, treatment, and prevention of disease. Students who major in public health can go on to earn a graduate degree in areas including global health, epidemiology, biostatistics, and nutrition. According to Forbes, Health Information Technology is a “hot job” for recent college graduates and is expected to remain in high demand. Similarly, careers that relate to health, such as health law, geriatric healthcare, nutritional advising or pharmaceutical testing, are also quickly expanding. If you’re interested in health, but don’t necessarily want to go to medical school, then studying public health is a great avenue to consider.
As technology advances, theories change, and therefore the demand for certain professions fluctuates, colleges and universities strive to stay abreast of current needs. Majors constantly evolve so that students can be educated in a way that prepares them for ever-changing global demands. It is important to thoroughly examine course catalogs, college websites, and consider your own interests and values to find a school that will help you meet your academic goals. For a quick overview of majors and their descriptions, check out CollegeBoard.com.
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