Advising for the Major or Concentration

Every academic department or program that offers a major, a concentration, or a special concentration has a faculty member who has been designated as the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS). The DUS provides advising for all students who are prospective majors or concentrators in the program, who are declared majors or concentrators in the program, or who are simply taking a course in the program. Some departments and programs also have several other faculty who are assigned advisers for undergraduates in their programs of study.

The faculty are the best sources of information and advice about the offerings in their programs, and students should seek out Directors of Undergraduate Studies and other faculty advisers as early as possible in order to identify the academic paths that might best suit them. While friends, family, and the Bulletin may be able to provide some ideas and insight, a member of faculty will be able to convey in-depth knowledge of, and passion for, the subject. A member of faculty is an expert not simply in the field but also in guiding students through the questions necessary for choosing a major and a program of study.

Students may know they want and need advice, but they may be unsure how to begin a conversation with an adviser. Here are some initial questions that could generate a discussion with a director of undergraduate studies or other faculty adviser to help students think about how to explore and develop their intellectual interests:

  • What is it like to study in this field?
    • What are the guiding questions that drive courses in this field? What kind of problems are students learning to tackle and solve?
    • What texts/works/materials do student typically study in their coursework?
    • What courses should I try to explore my own interest in the field? What courses are appropriate for my background and preparation?
    • ​Will courses in the program feel familiar to those I took in high school, or are courses at the college level at Columbia structured differently? 
  • What is it like to do research in this field?
    • What research do students do in their coursework in this field?
    • Are there opportunities for independent or group research projects outside of classes?
    • How can I get involved in the research conducted in the department/program?
  • Should I consider studying abroad?
    • How does study abroad fit into the major or concentration in this field?
    • Can courses taken abroad count toward the major or concentration?
      • If so, what programs are most popular among majors and concentrators?
      • If not, how do students complete their requirements in the major or concentration while allowing for a semester away?
  • What will I be able to do after majoring or concentrating in this field?
    • What knowledge and skills will I be acquiring in this field that will be applicable beyond Columbia?
    • What do students in this program tend to do after graduation?
      • What sort of professions do they pursue?
      • What sort of graduate study do they pursue?
      • How could I go about figuring out whether those professional or academic paths are right for me?

As students talk with various faculty members about the academic fields of study available to them, they may also want to consult the Center for Career Education to learn about the variety of professions that Columbia College graduates pursue after graduation. Students may be surprised to see the broad range of organizations that hire the graduates from a particular major or concentrators -- evidence of how flexible the major or concentration can be in preparing students for many possible future paths: