What’s your major? Depends on your mission

Think carefully about what you want to get out of your education, and set clear goals as early as possible

What’s your major? Depends on your mission

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

By Bradley Hood 

When you first apply for admission into a university, regardless of whether it is a physical or online school, such as AMU/APU, deciding on a major can be tough. Without having a clear major, setting goals for a focused education plan and on-time graduation is an even more arduous task than it has to be.

In the military, it can be easy to focus on very selective topics. Once you are assigned your specialty (or MOS for those of you who use this term), you go through a series of predetermined courses and training.

As an enlisted Marine, you attend MOS school immediately after combat training, and throughout your career then go on to professional development courses like the NCO academies and any MOS-specific courses based on the needs of your unit and your rank. Though one can request to go a school, most service members have little direct control over the primary direction of their military education.

So, for some, having the option to choose from an incredibly large number of majors and an even larger number of electives may be overwhelming, and lead to choices that may delay their graduation date.

Eyes on the prize

Throughout my time as an undergraduate both at Rutgers and at AMU, I continually found myself interested in classes that fell outside of what I needed to graduate – and while I have every intention of going back to take some of these courses later on, I plan to do so after I meet my immediate education goal, which is currently to attain a Master's degree.

I will admit that during my time working towards a Bachelor's, I changed my major and minor three times. It added on about a year to my goal of reaching a BA, and though I would not trade any of my experiences in college even for an earlier graduation date, I do not recommend this approach for everyone.

If you are in the process of selecting a major or setting other similar education goals, my advice is to really think about what you are looking to get out of your degree: Are you looking to use your degree to pursue a specific line of work? Are you studying for more general purposes, and to use an unrelated degree to compliment your experience for a new job? Are you already in your ideal line of work but want or need education to seek a promotion or other career advancement? These and other considerations may affect your choices.

If you are looking to pursue specific work, it would be best to align your degree to that: someone interested in a career in the national park service would be benefited by a degree in conservation or forestry, for example, or a similarly related degree.

Align your interests

I highly advise students, military and civilian alike, to consider what you want to do after your achieve your education goal, and align your education to that. Education based on interest can always come later.

It is a fine balance, however, as I also believe that having a passion for your education (and your work) is very important. For myself, I found myself listless while studying East Asian Area Studies and Language, though I love the Japanese language itself. On the other hand, Military History was a degree I could be passionate about, but if I did not have a career based on the degree itself rather than its content (a contract as a Marine Aviator), I would have had to reconsider, or at least major in a more career-focused field while minoring in military history.

There is no simple advice I can offer about selecting your major and setting educational goals, because every student has different career goals and reasons for pursuing education. The advice I can offer, and stress, is to think carefully about what you want to get out of your education, and set clear, attainable goals at the earliest point in your academic career as possible. Good luck!

About the author: 

Bradley Hood is a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant in IRR status with 5 years of prior enlisted experience. He is a recent graduate of American Military University, and currently is working towards a master's degree in military history through Norwich. Bradley lives with his beautiful wife in historic NJ.