Exploring Potential Majors

There are many things you can do to explore a major and see whether it feels right for you. Check out the steps below for some ideas. Of course, your Academic Advising Director or AARC Advisor is always happy to talk through this decision with you as well.

Explore Your Interests

  • Browse the Majors site to see what majors look interesting and what are some good courses you can take to learn more about them.
  • Take an introductory class in the field. IntroSems are great, as well as this list of carefully chosen frosh-friendly courses. These classes can give you some insight into the topics, methods, and materials important to that field.
  • Enroll in a 1-unit class. Even if you cannot fit a regular introductory class into your schedule, many departments offer 1 unit lecture series courses with few or no prerequisites that can still be quite useful in exploring a major.
  • Browse the faculty profiles on the department website to see if the range of topics and approaches in that major interests you. You can read some of the research your professors have published to learn more.
  • Read some nonfiction bestsellers written for a general audience in that field. Then read scholarly reactions to them. (Ask a librarian how to find these.)
  • Engage in research in the field. Whether it's a summer-long program or a short commitment during the academic year, a research experience can provide an excellent view into a potential major.

Attend Events

Go to Majors Night

Held every year, Majors Night is your chance to take a tour of the academic programs at Stanford. During Majors Night, departments and programs representing most of the majors and minors at Stanford will gather in one place. You can move from table to table to chat with different departments, talk to peer advisors, learn about opportunities, pick up basic materials on the major, and more. It’s a chance to ask questions such as, “What’s the difference between BioMechanical and Mechanical Engineering? How might a student get started with research in the English department? What is Urban Studies? Can you put me on your email interest list?” and many more. All sophomores and first-years will find it valuable.

Visit SURPS and ASURPS

The Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Public Service is a great place to go to learn more about particular majors. Held over Reunion Homecoming Weekend (SURPS) and Admit Weekend (ASURPS), the two symposia are huge poster session events where Stanford undergraduates present their research, arts, senior synthesis, and public service projects to the broader university community. This is an excellent moment to talk to juniors and seniors about their experiences working with their faculty mentors on their projects. Right now, you are probably taking fundamental or introductory classes in a potential major. SURPS will give you a sense of how you might build on those foundations down the road. Every major has its own way of asking questions, and SURPS will showcase the way your fellow students are starting to ask more advanced questions in their chosen disciplines. There are no formal presentations, so you can drop in anytime and browse the student posters, asking questions as you see a topic that catches your interest.

Talk to People

  • Meet the Student Services Officer of the department you're interested in, or talk to the peer advisors in the department - they are a great starting point for any questions.
  • Attend a pre-major luncheon, dinner, or info session. Tip: You may want to get on the department’s interest, pre-major, or events email list to learn about these. Your Academic Advisor may also include information about such opportunities in their weekly newsletter.
  • Visit office hours for a professor whose research interests you, and ask them to recommend a book or if you can see their lab. Or ask them how they decided to commit to that field.
  • Do “informational interviews” with alumni in that major. (BEAM can give you tips on finding alumni and setting these up; Handshake has suggestions on how to conduct them.)
  • Find out what advanced students are doing in the major. Places to look: SURPS and ASURPS, where students from all disciplines present their current and recent academic projects, showcasing the diversity of topics, approaches, and interests at Stanford. Some departments also share thesis abstracts or presentation videos on their website, or ask the SSO/peer advisors if you can see examples of past theses.

Plan It Out

  • If a particular major sounds promising, you can research its requirements by going to the relevant department’s website or by visiting the Stanford Bulletin. Consider how the coursework aligns with your interests.
  • Make a couple of four-year plans that fulfill all major and university requirements. Pay attention to prerequisites and what quarter courses are offered. Assess whether your schedule seems compelling and manageable.

See Also