12/01/2006

www.MyMajors.com: Supporting University-Level Academic Advisement

by Fritz H. Grupe


Career development advisors know that advisement about available university majors and the requirements for those majors is essential if the selection of a major by a student is to be fully consistent with a student's skills, capabilities, attitudes, and interests. Students who are clear about the match between their needs and their college's majors are more likely to enroll, less likely to take classes that don't contribute toward graduation, more likely to enjoy university studies, and more apt to graduate.

Psychological career guidance instruments are intended to serve a wide age range of people. They make inferences from a student's expression of interests, values and aptitudes, yet they may fail to obtain valuable evidence of the student's capacity to succeed in those careers. If a student expresses the values similar to those of a geologist (i.e., likes to work outdoors, enjoys science, etc.), the instrument does not include in its assessment the student's actual progress in science courses and mathematics. Some programs simply conclude that a person is placed in a broad category such as scientifically-inclined or business-oriented, and the student is left trying to figure out what such broad categories mean as far as a college major is concerned. Other career guidance instruments often link into a table of occupations, which confronts users with a lengthy list of careers, most of which are not directly related to university majors.

MyMajors is designed to emulate a human academic advisor for a university. The target audiences are traditional-age high school seniors and first-year college students. It conducts a "natural feeling" interview that most students complete in about 10 minutes. The interview obtains data about the student's actual grades in specific courses and about the student's like and dislike of various subjects, as well as values and preferences. At the end, based on the student's input, the program recommends five college/university majors (not careers, general categories or personality types). MyMajors should be considered less as a psychological instrument than as an effort to model the thought process of an expert human advisor who is working with a student.

MyMajors currently provides recommendations from among 104 of the most common majors found at colleges and universities. It provides information about all of these majors, such as what the major is, campuses offering these majors, sample courses to take, career opportunities associated with this major, and links to sites that stimulate student interest. These pages of information are increasingly being used by universities to link students directly to the appropriate departments offering these majors. (Colleges and universities are given the opportunity to place links to their departments within the major information pages when they link to MyMajors from their own web sites or by paying a fee.) MyMajors makes recommendations of majors for each student to consider. It also recommends that the student compare these recommendations with those of the student's own perceptions, as well as with those of counselors, parents and others before reaching a decision.

Use of the program is free, although there is a small fee for an advisement report that summarizes a student's input and that expands and ranks the number of recommendations ($5 per report for individuals). The report can be discussed with the student by advisors or with parents. The advisement report is useful to advisors and to parents alike because it provides a good overview of what the student has accomplished and what the student is thinking. It also saves advisors time in collecting information about the student. Counselors or their educational institutions may establish prepaid accounts with MyMajors.com, allowing their students to receive the advisement reports at a lower cost or for free.

MyMajors is currently linked to by over 125 university academic advisement sites, over 675 high school counseling pages, and some 100 other organizations, which has resulted in around 200,000 students using the program in the last year and a half. Dr. Rich Feller, a professor of counseling and career development at Colorado State University and a former admissions and school counselor says, "MyMajors.com fills a need we have long searched for...quick, goes beyond simple interests, connects to great data, and counselors see its value immediately!" Student satisfaction with the recommendations they receive is high. The program has also been highlighted in several media articles including "College Freshmen Face a Major Dilemma" (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10154383/).

The program is continually undergoing improvement, including the logic of the program. It will shortly include more questions about elective high school courses taken by students and questions about the student's extra-curricular activities. Links from the major information pages to more university departments are being added as well.

This program makes a strong contribution to the college/university advisement process and supplements the broader assistance provided by advisors and counselors. MyMajors provides students with additional insights about considerations bearing on the selection of a major. In this respect it is a valuable tool that students find quite helpful. Counselors whose advisees use the system before meeting with their advisor find that students have begun to understand why counselors ask the kinds of questions they do. The students can begin to speak the advising language. When students don't find a major on the list of recommended majors that they expected, the program offers a neutral basis for discussion of what may be a very necessary yet fruitful exchange. That is, is the student expecting an unrealistic likelihood of being admitted to a demanding major, is the "major" actually a graduate degree, is the expected major actually a career that can be reached through many majors, and so on.

MyMajors makes available 20 free advisement reports to schools and colleges that are interested in trying the program out. It also provides career development trainers and university faculty with free advisement reports for workshops for practicing counselors, graduate students and other advisors. Readers of Career Convergence who wish to access MyMajors.com and receive a free sample advisement report may do so by contacting the author at admin@MyMajors.com.




Dr. Fritz Grupe, Ed.D. is the president of MyMajors.com and professor emeritus in information systems from the University of Nevada, Reno. He received his Ed.D. from the State University of New York at Albany. He may be reached at admin@MyMajors.com.


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