Choosing a major could be one of the most important and impactful decisions cadets have the opportunity to make at West Point. With so many academic degree programs, including the option to double-major or add in a minor, the options feel almost limitless.
“We offer 35 different majors here,” says Brigadier General Cindy R. Jebb, Dean of the Academic Board, who says that there’s a pretty even split of interests on campus: 50 percent of cadets lean toward a major in math, science, or engineering and another 50 percent choose something in social sciences and humanities. “We also have minors and loads of experiences outside the classroom, from all kinds of clubs to guest speaker programs to internships during our enrichments during the summer. It’s a very rich experience, one that’s complemented by choosing the right field of study.”
Here, we offer up the essential things to know for picking the right major as a West Point cadet:
1. Cadets don’t select a major until spring semester of their plebe year. West Point arms cadets with all of the tools to make a smart, informed decision about their path of study. Once enrolled at the Academy, they’re offered the opportunity to meet with different members of the faculty in smaller groups so that they can get a sense of what it means to focus on different areas.
2. Know what you’re passionate about. Cadets will be spending a lot of time in the classroom learning, and the goal is to enjoy the process despite its challenges. “We definitely want cadets to think about what their passion is,” says Jebb. “We want them to ask themselves: What do I really want to study? We are here to build lifelong learners, we think that’s really important.”
3. Each cadet is offered one-on-one counseling to make an informed decision. Department academic counselors sit down with each cadet once they narrow down their choice to three majors. “These counselors represent the various programs,” says Rachel Sondheimer, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs. “They share information with each cadet on what their schedule would look like, courses they could take, and then they can make an informed decision based on this meeting on what would be right for them.”
4. Once cadets choose a major, they’ll get a schedule for the remainder of their time on campus. Class sign-ups happen soon after a major is selected, and cadets will know what the next four years will look like—including which courses they will be on track to take each year. Think of it as an easily accessible road map.
5. You don’t have to be good at it right off the bat. When your decision is rooted in passion and follows your interests, it’s important to remember that your major may not always be something you’re good at from day one. “This is only the beginning,” says Jebb. “You don’t always have to choose something that you’re good at, but if it aligns with your talents and you’re passionate about it, then that’s a plus.”
6. It is possible to change majors. Granted, some majors require a bit more class time than others (like mechanical engineering, for example). The department academic counselors are there to guide cadets, and want them to be working toward their full potential both on and off campus. “The earlier you decide to pivot, if that’s what you desire, the better,” says Sondheimer.