5 steps to building a co-curricular major map

By Diana Barnes

Many institutions offer curricular major maps to guide their students through a degree. Typical maps outline which courses are commonly taken in which year to help students plan their schedules.

Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, however has developed a new type of major map that does more than just guide students to the courses required each semester. Expanding their mission, the maps highlight high-impact experiences around the major that can better inform major selection and post-graduation career alignment. Undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences review multiple maps during their advising meetings and use them as models when completing a blank template for their chosen major.

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Queen’s University’s major maps are the product of a collaborative effort between a number of offices. Career Services developed the initial template and then gained input from student focus groups, academic advising, academic units, recruitment, and admissions. The project team then worked closely with the Chemistry department to build the first map and then used it as an example during development with other departments.

Major Map

Follow the five steps below to build your own co-curricular major map.

1. Identify complementary extra-curricular activities that will augment each particular degree.
In collaboration with Purdue University, Gallup identified six university experiences that have the highest impact on post-graduation work place engagement. Of the six, three relate to engagement with faculty and three are extra-curricular experiences:

  • Worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete
  • Had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom
  • Was extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations

Queen’s University’s major maps help students identify these high-impact opportunities by displaying an ideal student progression through four years in five categories: courses needed, relevant experience, connection with the community, global thinking, and career preparation. The maps suggest clubs, experiential learning, service and international opportunities, and important career preparation milestones. In the maps, students have a central repository of the wide variety of experiences available on and off-campus to supplement an academic major.

2. Carefully organize all selected activities and courses into four years to encourage early exploration.
The four year structure of each map normalizes participation in selected activities early, consistently sending the message that experiential learning and visits to the office of career services are not just for upperclassmen. This is important for both undecided students and students who identify their major early. Undecided students are encouraged to try out related clubs and service opportunities to begin exploring possible areas of interest. Students that have already declared are encouraged to test out their assumptions through alumni interviews or job shadowing before a major change would delay degree completion.

3. Set expectations high by displaying the ideal major route of a high performer, even including optional (but very impactful) experiences.
Queen’s University’s major maps have a clear red bar interrupting movement from the third to fourth year. This visual cue nudges students to explore the option of a co-op or internship before graduation. The clear visual normalizes an, admittedly optional, experience that Queen’s highly recommends.

4. Highlight the wide range of careers alumni with this degree attain.

Major choice can be one of the most stressful decisions undergraduates face and they (and their parents) typically come prepared with some misleading information. Co-curricular major maps can be used to communicate the many careers each major can prepare students for. By having students fill out their own blank major map template, they are encouraged to entertain majors they may not have previously considered.

5. Outline the particular skills students will obtain in each major alongside a list of skills in high-demand by employers.

Beyond communicating to students that many majors will teach them desirable skills, the display of skills gained in the major can also help students later articulate to their employers just how relevant their experiences will be to their future career.

At Queen’s these lists of skills were developed by each discipline’s faculty but, as many of the skills are common to multiple programs, faculty assistance was limited to the creation of a few discipline-specific skills. You could provide faculty with drafts pre-built by career services or a dedicated project team and only ask for edits.

Major Map

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