Book by Virginia N. Gordon & Susan J. Sears
Review by Heather Doyle
Coordinator of the Office of Academic Advising
Lakehead University
Ontario, Canada

As advisors, we are always looking for resources to add to our “toolbox.” Although Selecting a college major: Exploration and decision making, is written directly to the student, it is filled with a number of resources that can be utilized in advising sessions. Selecting a college major, by Gordon and Sears is a guidebook for students who are undecided about their chosen major or who are considering changing majors. The book is divided into six units, first, establishing what a major is, and then taking readers through logical steps of the decision making process (p. xvi). 

According to Gordon and Sears, first year students have little experience with understanding the many different academic disciplines available within a college setting, and may only have a vague idea about what a major means (p. xiii).  As advisors, we often meet with students who have limited understanding about different majors, who have not spent much time reflecting on their choices, or who have chosen a specific major because of unrealistic employment expectations. 

Selecting a college major does more than simply provide students with information on different majors. It is a hands-on workbook that delves into how students make decisions as a whole. It encourages students to think deeply and strategically about the decisions they make in college, and although it is specifically designed to help students consider major options, it could be applied on a larger scale to examine students’ goal-setting and decision-making processes.

What are some ways students can make meaningful decisions about majors and careers? The authors take a linear approach to help students critically examine their major options: through the use of the classification of instructional programs (CIP) to determine academic options and alternatives; by the inclusion of exercises on selecting choices that elicit “positive feelings”; using a force field analysis and then finally looking at patterns of values, abilities, etc. that affect choices. These strategies are utilized as ways to help students think more meaningfully about their major options (p. 62). Through the exercises in this workbook, Gordon and Sears encourage students to take control over their own academic pathways and to make their academic choices more intentional. 

Not only do the authors fill this book with hands on activities, but they also encourage students to seek out community resources, including interviewing college staff and workers in the field, looking at employment/labour trends, and exploring occupational differences.  Gordon and Sears use theory related to personality styles and goal setting to help navigate students through the decision making process. The authors deal with occupational stereotypes and provide students with an opportunity for self-reflection through the use of case studies and personal logs. 

Gordon and Sears have produced a well written book, with clear exercises and courses of action that are not intimidating for students to follow, either on their own, or with an academic and/or career advisor. Although this book is focused on the American system of education and utilizes American resources (such as the U.S. Department of Labor), its’ content is also applicable to an international audience. If you are looking for a practical resource to help students in the decision making process, or looking for resources to recommend to your students, I highly recommend Selecting a college major: Exploration and decision making.

Selecting a college major: Exploration and decision making (2010). Book by Virginia N. Gordon & Susan J. Sears. Review by Heather Doyle. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 144 pp. $26.27. ISBN # 9780137152797

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