Your student hasn’t signed a major yet? Don’t panic — read these tips

​​The magic number: 56. Once you’ve earned 56 credit hours, you need to sign a major.

But as students inch toward that number, some still don’t know what career they want to pursue. They get a little panicky. And so do parents.

We chat with Rob VanDorin, associate director of career services and employer relations, and Elizabeth Heintzkill, career coach, about how to help steer your student toward a good decision.

Career Services is chock full of tools and tips to help students settle on the right major. But students need to make the effort to take advantage of them.

By the end of sophomore year, most students have earned 56 credit hours and need to sign a major. You can change your mind later if necessary. But if you want to see your son or daughter graduate in four years, they should sign a major by 56 hours.

They’re still undecided? Here are some tips from our experts:

Take some career assessments.

“Come to our office and take some assessments to discover what you’re good at, what fits your personality, how you work best,” VanDorin says.

“Tell your student to come see us sooner, rather than later,” VanDorin says. “Most of the students we see are juniors and seniors. But if you come in much earlier, even as you’re just getting started, we can help you.”

Start exploring options early.

“A lot of students say, ‘I’m still exploring, so I'm just going to take the general requirement classes first and get them out of the way,’” Heintzkill says. “But if you only take English and math classes, you’re not exploring anything new. Try a class in a major that interests you.”

Explore internships.

Find a list of available internships at Career Central.

All the internships posted there are at the request of companies interested in CMU students. Internships are a great way to see if a certain job fits you.

Bonus: “A significant amount of employers use internships as feeders to full-time jobs,” VanDorin says.

“I tell students it’s never too early to start looking into internships. You might think as a freshman you don’t have a chance, but there’s always a possibility. If it doesn’t work out, just the experience of going through the application process can be helpful for future opportunities.”

Look for other on-the-job opportunities.

“There’s more than just internships,” Heintzkill says. “Job shadowing is a great chance to explore different companies and environments. Even two days sitting alongside someone gives you a good feel for his or her job.

“It would be unfortunate to go through the entire teaching program, for example, then student teach and find out it’s not for you,” she says.

“Our office can help find those job shadow and volunteer opportunities,” VanDorin says. “We have hundreds of employer connections.”

Take an introductory class in a field that interests you. There’s EDU 107 if you might like to be a teacher or HPS 101 if you’re leaning toward a career in the health field.

“There’s no pressure to continue in that field,” Heintzkill says, “but it gives you a great introduction.”

Attend the special summer programs that showcase each of CMU’s colleges. CBA Day, for instance, highlights the many programs of the College of Business Administration. Ask questions and learn about the assorted fields that fall under business.

​CMU and You Day offers a similar opportunity each fall.

Never consider any exploration a waste.

“If you’re looking at the health care field and you do a hospital internship, then decide you don’t like it, you’ve still learned skills like teamwork and project management,” VanDorin says. “These skills are still necessary in a variety of career fields.”

“Don't say, ‘I wasted a whole summer,’” Heintzkill adds. “You can still use those skills to build a resume.”

Adds VanDorin: “There’s no such thing as a wasted opportunity.”