Major Decisions: A Stand-Alone Web site for Undecided Students

by Donna Vinton

It is not unusual for students to look to the Internet when they need information. It’s not unusual for students to look to the Internet for career information. Unfortunately, it’s also not unusual for students to be frustrated with the results of their searches. Even on career center web sites, they may not know where to look for the information they need, may be overwhelmed by finding more than they need, or may be unsure how to make use of what they do find.

At the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), we have a variety of career information on the Career Center web site, with various points of access. Last summer we added another web-based resource to help students locate information for exploring possible majors and career directions. The site is a stand-alone web site created using WebCT course authoring software. The reasons for creating a stand-alone web site were to allow students to focus on deciding on a major without being distracted or overwhelmed by other career-related tasks and resources and to help them see indecision about a major as a set of identifiable career questions with specific strategies and resources for working toward answers to those questions.

Called Major Decisions: Some Strategies and Resources, the web site is accessed by going to the address on the UNI Internet site that is the entry point for all WebCT courses for the university. Students access the Major Decisions web site through a general-use login name and password. The Major Decisions homepage is organized by points in the career decision-making process, so that students can proceed directly to the kind of information they feel they need:

    §I know my interests, but not the related majors and jobs

    §I have some majors in mind, but I need to know more

    §I know what job I want, but not which major will get me there

    §I think I’ve picked the right major, but how can I be sure?

    §I have no idea

    §I’ve decided! Now what?

Clicking on a particular career “diagnosis” from the homepage leads the student to a new page that begins with a brief introduction of what the decision making problem involves and how information can be used to help move toward reaching a career decision. For example, the page for I Have Some Majors in Mind, But I Need to Know More is introduced as follows: “Once you have some tentative choices for your major, a next step is to take a closer look at the major. What courses does the major require? What prerequisites will I need to complete? What are my choices for electives within the major? How long will it take to complete the major? What jobs could I get with this major? The resources below will help you find the answers to these questions.”

After the introduction, each page on the site provides a number of links to resources for attacking the student’s identified problem. The links may be to specific sites within or outside of the UNI web site (e.g., to O*Net or a list of academic department homepages for UNI) or to specific sections of the Career Center or Academic Advising Services web sites (e.g., the job shadowing program site or the site for exploring UNI majors) or to pages developed specifically for Major Decisions to answer a particular information need (e.g., how and why might a student might meet with a professor from an academic department of interest). Students are encouraged at multiple points throughout the web site to connect with an advisor to discuss the information they’ve found and to get additional help with their decision making.

The web site has been introduced to students through a variety of means since its completion during the early summer of 2002.

    §Fliers with information for accessing the site were provided at summer and fall new and transfer student orientations to all students entering the university without a declared major.

    §Information on the web site was sent to all students on campus prior to registration for spring courses, through an online student newsletter.

    §Information on the web site was e-mailed to advisors from academic departments who deal pre-majors for their departments. Some department advisors additionally e-mailed the web site to all of their advisees.

    §Peer advisors from Academic Advising Services were provided training on the Major Decisions web site so they can take students to it as they work with them individually.

    §Students have also been given information on the web site as they have come to Academic Advising for individual appointments.

In its first eight months of existence, the page has received nearly 1500 hits and the number keeps growing. Student comments like these have not been uncommon:

    §“Major Decisions lets students know it’s perfectly normal and okay to be unsure of your major or career path.”

    §“I have a major . . . with a click of a mouse I began finding more links and learning more about various careers.”

    § “I had no idea so many resources were available.”

    §“This is just what I needed!”

Such reactions indicate that the web site is doing exactly what it was intended to do—helping students to find the career information they need when they need it and to spend their time using information rather than searching for it.

Donna Vinton is Associate Director of Career Development Services at the University of Northern Iowa, where her position is shared between the Career Center and Academic Advising Services. She previously served as Director of Career Planning and Placement at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She has a Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Iowa. Contact information: SSC #125, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 50614;319-273-2646;
Email: donna.vinton@uni.edu

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