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Choosing a Major: What's Best for Me? EFB Undergraduate Program

A good descriptor of the undergraduate opportunities in the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology is that they cover the range from “Molecules to Ecosystems”, and this has become the banner-phrase for our offerings. Essentially, this means that you can get training and experience in virtually any major field of biology: all doors are open. The degree program (major) that retains this level of generality through all four years is Environmental Biology (ENB), and this will be the major in which most students will choose to enroll, especially students who enter as freshmen. Many students will remain in that broad program to the completion of their Bachelor of Science degree. Most educators agree that an undergraduate experience should be broad, to give a foundation that is appropriate for a range of future life-choices. There is absolutely no need to specialize while at ESF, but there are many opportunities to do so if you wish.

What if you do have a special interest and want to focus on it? After all, there are six other majors to consider, which you can learn about by reading the introductory text for each one in the pages that follow. First, ask yourself how strong and certain that focus is. For example, if you have dreamed of a lifetime career in the study of fishes ever since you first held a fishing pole, you may want to start as a freshman in the Aquatic and Fisheries Science major. But for most students such an early commitment is not recommended; there is plenty of time to think about it.

Whether you bring a subject-focus with you when you enroll, or develop one after a year or two in the ENB major, remember that you have two main choices. One is to use the many elective slots in the ENB program to take the specialized courses that are attractive to you; i.e. you do not have to change from the broad ENB major. Or, you can easily change into one of the specialized majors, with little paperwork and few adjustments in most cases. This is because the freshman and sophomore years of most EFB majors are quite similar. By checking the descriptions that follow, you can determine what adjustments (if any) would be needed to change from Environmental Biology to, for example, Wildlife Science. Courses that are unnecessary in your new major are simply moved to a position as an “open elective”, so nothing is lost.

General or specialized degree: which is better for you? Unfortunately, there is no easy and general answer. Having a specialized degree in some subject areas may increase your employment options in that particular career area, and may be right for you if your level of commitment is high. But if you want the broadest options for a career in biology after graduation, a general degree (ENB) is probably better. Any questions or concerns can be answered by the curriculum coordinator for the major you are thinking about (see list on page 3).

Another possible consideration relates to the number of open electives credits, which ranges among majors from 13-24. If you are entering as a freshman, these are the credits that allow you to sample other areas of academic enrichment, or to obtain a minor in another discipline, if enough open elective credits are available. If you are entering as a transfer student from a different academic focus, the open elective block in your Plan Sheet is where your miscellaneous courses are slotted, and its size determines how many can be transferred.

While some program changes are simple to make, others can be a little more difficult, especially if you had decided to specialize early, and then changed your mind. Most difficulty arises from course selections made (or avoided) during the freshman and sophomore years. For example, Biotechnology requires a year (a two course sequence) of organic chemistry, calculus and physics, usually taken during the freshman and sophomore years. No other major requires this full set, so moving from (for example) Wildlife Science to Biotechnology is harder than moving in the other direction.

A last point: two popular educational directions will affect which major you choose. Students who envision a career in the health professions (pre-med, pre-vet, etc.) will be well-served by either the Biotechnology or Environmental Biology majors. Students who expect to enter the Science Education program must be enrolled in Environmental Biology, as only this major has the formal linkages with Syracuse University’s education program. Anyone interested in either Pre-health or Science Education should read the relevant section on “Other Opportunities”, toward the end of this handbook.

Undergraduate Program Links