Adam Ramsey arrived at Creighton University with a vague plan to become a doctor.
Two years later, he had yet to choose a major.
The 2010 Creighton Prep graduate finally found his calling with help from the university’s Career Center, which helps “undeclared” students turn their investments of money and time into practical and potentially interesting careers.
A variety of personal, academic and career-interest tools are available to help such students settle on a major, said Jim Bretl, the Creighton center’s senior director, and Jessica Wolff, who directs the Academic and Career Development Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
But the personal touch remains important.
Ramsey, 21, says he owes a lot to Creighton counselor Lisa Fitzsimmons, who talked with him often during his sophomore year with the aim of “dissecting what I liked and zeroing in on what I’ve done and what I’ve been interested in since I’ve been here.”
Fitzsimmons suggested that Ramsey seek an internship at Henry Doorly Zoo’s Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium.
That experience, which included working in the popular penguin exhibit, did the trick. He declared a major in environmental science at the start of his junior year.
“It took a while to get used to doing the field work,” Ramsey said, but he finally realized “there was nothing else I wanted to do.”
After he graduates next May, Ramsey wants to be a hands-on researcher in wildlife conservation or marine biology.
He explored the latter field during an August internship with Oceans Research, which has been studying great white sharks off the coast of South Africa.
UNO senior Nick Harrahill likewise credits his counselor, Cathy Pettit, with a pivotal role in helping him find his major.
The 2010 Millard North High School graduate, a devoted hockey player, was torn as a freshman between possible careers in
broadcasting or coaching.
Pettit made sure Harrahill made progress toward fulfilling his core course requirements, but she also signed him up for introductory courses in mass communications and physical education.
When he figured out that P.E. appealed to him regardless of whether he could coach, he had settled on a major.
“When they hire you for P.E., you’re the physical educator first — not the coach,” said Harrahill, 21.
But “I found out I had a passion for working with kids.” He’s on track to receive his degree in P.E. at the end of 2014 — and he has found hockey coaching internships in the Omaha area in the meantime.
Undeclared students, Bretl and Wolff said, likely are better off to focus on their college’s core classes and take their time in choosing a major.
Students who declare a major right away but change their mind, they said, can have trouble fitting credit hours from their original major into their new program.
But UNO students have less time to make a decision than their Creighton counterparts.
Wolff said her office allows students using its services to complete up to 36 credit hours before declaring a major. “We feel like we’ve done our job well if they’re moving on by the second semester of their sophomore year,” she said.
Creighton students have more time, Bretl said, because his university’s core curriculum covers 61 to 64 credit hours — up to half of the 128 typically needed to graduate.
“Our preference is for them to make one really good first decision and not jump around (in majors) four or five times,” he said.
The Creighton and UNO career centers offer two popular surveys among their career assessment tools.
The Strong Interest Inventory measures career and leisure interests, while the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator measures people’s degree of introversion or extroversion and their perceptions of the world.
Each career center also offers a free online career assessment tool for students who can’t afford to pay for the popular survey tools.
The Strong and Myers-Briggs surveys are included in a one-credit-hour UNO elective, “First-Year Experience,” coordinated by Wolff’s office.
She said the instructors — typically academic advisers or other staffers connected with degree programs — familiarize undeclared students with UNO resources.
They assign students a final project designed to help them narrow their choices for a major.
Harrahill said that Pettit, his UNO adviser, also had him take the Clifton StrengthsFinder, a survey offered by Gallup Inc. that helps people identify their personal strengths.
Harrahill said it pointed out that he had a gift for working with people, a finding that reinforced his decision to major in P.E.