Choosing a Williams Major

January 31, 2020

Dear Sophomore Families, 

Soon (and definitely by late April!) your students will choose the academic department in which they’ll major at Williams.

By now, they’ve been able to explore a wide range of courses in a variety of academic disciplines, and some already know what major they’ll declare. Many others remain undecided, and that’s entirely fine. It’s still very early in their exploration process, and some of the courses they plan to take this semester may turn out to be the springboard into a major. But whether students think they are settled or are not yet sure about their choice of major, the decision process will be much more enjoyable and meaningful if they begin some key conversations now.

These conversations can occur with their academic advisors, their favorite professors, academic department chairs, my colleagues in the Dean’s Office, The Davis Center, The Career Center, their JAs, and older students who’ve already chosen their majors. More conversations with more people are always better.

There are a few other pieces of information your own student should take into consideration. One is purely logistical: to be eligible for any major, a student must have a C-minus or better average in courses in the major. Students should check with the department they plan to major in for any additional grading requirements. Your student may stop by the registrar’s office for clarification on declaring a major.

More broadly, your students should keep well in mind that the requirements of a major (which vary somewhat from department to department) still leave plenty of room to continue exploring courses across the entire curriculum for their final two years at Williams. This is why we encourage students to think carefully before declaring a double major. It’s often better to declare a single major and retain full flexibility to choose the rest of their courses, which they may use to take some clusters of classes in other areas they are very interested in, to explore broadly all over the curriculum, or both. Majoring in one subject (such as biology) and concentrating in a particular area of academic interest (such as Africana Studies) is a great way to go.

It’s also worth reminding your students that their particular choice of major may have less impact on determining their future professional life than they think. Students often pursue careers and even graduate study in fields in which they didn’t major. And professors regularly write recommendations that speak to the talent and skills of students in their courses, whether they were majors or not.

I hope these thoughts prove useful as you continue your own conversations with your students about their academic paths through Williams. When you do, please remind them to take full advantage of all the campus resources available to help them with these key decisions, starting with my colleagues in the Dean’s Office.

In the meantime, my very best wishes for 2020, and many thanks, as ever, for the privilege of working with your wonderful students.

With best regards,

Marlene Sandstrom
Dean of the College and Hales Professor of Psychology