For Parents and Supporters

How CCAS Helps

It’s common and understandable for a college student to not know which direction is right for them. In fact, academic and career exploration are foundational aspects of the college experience. We know there are many reasons why a student may not be ready to declare a major. We welcome conversations with students to help clarify some of these reasons and offer resources to help guide them.

Major exploration is an opportunity for students to discover their passions, develop their skills, and shape their future. Students can be most successful when they find something they like to do and are good at, in addition to meeting financial and other needs. Regardless of where your student starts, we are dedicated to helping them explore the wide range of options at UW, decide on an academic path, and graduate on time.


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A Holistic Approach

Each student has a different story, various interests, and unique circumstances. We meet students where they are and go from there. We encourage them to think about their strengths, interests, influences, and motivations when making academic decisions. We guide them to find a place to belong, to explore the many options on campus, and to become what they want during their college career.


Cross-College Knowledge

CCAS advisors are knowledgeable about the eight undergraduate schools and colleges at UW-Madison. We help students explore majors and certificates within and across them all. Our breadth of academic knowledge enables us to give students a range of options to consider. We also serve as a general advising resource for all students on campus. Any student who has a question can come to us for support.


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Conversation & Connection

When working with students, conversation and resource referrals are our primary tools. We ask questions, reserve judgment, and try to understand their goals and needs. Our conversations often cover many topics and help us know how we can best support each student. This helps both the advisor and the student get to a point where they can plan a semester and beyond. We also connect students with resources on campus that align with their strategic exploration. This might be talking about student groups, job opportunities, or connections with advisors in specific departments.


Strategic Exploration


Our Strategic Exploration process asks students to be intentional about the courses they choose. With Strategic Exploration, each course has a purpose. It could be to explore subjects of interest, meet initial requirements, or take classes to prepare for applying to a specific program. An exploring student’s schedule might look quite different from that of a student who has decided their major. This is okay, because: 

  • Each class a student takes helps them get closer to graduation
  • Early in a student’s career at UW, almost every class will fulfill a requirement
  • Students who explore early usually decide within 2-3 semesters and then stick with that decision


UW-Madison Advising is more than academics. There are many other advising resources available to your student!

Advising is a key aspect of the teaching and learning mission of UW-Madison. There are several different types of advisors that your student may interact with during their college experience. We encourage you to remind your student of the resources available to them on campus whenever they need help.


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An academic advisor is a professional who provides advice and guidance to students on academic matters. Academic advisors are the point-of-contact for students for topics such as:

  • Course selection & schedule creation
  • Degree requirements
  • Major exploration & declaration
  • Grades/GPA
  • Planning future semesters

Academic advisors are also here to support students during any academic or personal issues that they face. They can help connect them with other campus resources and help get the information they need.

If your student starts with CCAS, they will have an assigned CCAS academic advisor until they declare a major.



A major is a specific area of study to specialize in while in college (like Political Science, Chemistry, or Psychology), that typically consists of 30-40 credits.

After students declare a major, they will work with a major advisor through graduation. A major advisor is a professional advisor or faculty member within the academic department or unit that houses that academic program. Major advisors have full expertise within the major to help students with:

  • Guiding course selection
  • Staying on track for major and degree completion
  • Learning about research and job opportunities
  • Connecting with faculty in the academic department



certificate is an optional path of study that allows students to gain skills and knowledge in a specific subject or integrate multiple subject areas. These are similar to minors at other colleges & universities. Certificates are typically between 15-24 credits.

Each certificate on campus has dedicated person or team to advise students in the program. A certificate advisor is who students work with to ensure they complete the program requirements.



career advisor is a professional who provides students (and often alumni) with support in identifying and attaining career goals. Career advisors can help students with many aspects of career exploration, including:

  • Gathering information & personal insight based on their interests, values, and skills.
  • Discussing options on choosing a major or academic path that aligns with career goals.
  • Offering help with resume writing, job search strategies, interview preparation, and career exploration.
  • Providing information about internships, co-op programs, and experiential learning opportunities.
  • Developing networking skills and building professional relationships.
  • Organizing career-related workshops, seminars, and events.
  • Providing support for graduate school applications and entrance exams.
  • Offering guidance on job offers, negotiations, and career transitions.

For more information about career advising at UW-Madison, visit


Cohort Program

Students in one of UW-Madison’s cohort programs may also have direct advising resources in that program. Cohort program advisors help provide individualized and holistic support services for their students while at UW-Madison.

These programs include:



specialist advisor is an expert who provides targeted guidance and support in a specific area within the university. They have in-depth knowledge and experience related to their area and help students through specific needs. These include, but not limited to:


How You Can Help

Parents, families, and other supporters of students often feel or express concerns about what it means when their students enter college with no clear path in mind. This is understandable. Families put a lot of time and resources into their students’ education, and it is reasonable to hope for and expect good outcomes.

At CCAS, we view parents, family members, and other supporters as partners. We share your hopes and dreams for your students and strive to guide them efficiently through the process of exploring, deciding on a major, and graduating on time. We care deeply about the success of every student we work with.

Each student is different. The transition to college is often not as straightforward for students as we might hope. They have a lot going on, and this is a time of significant change and development. The good news is exploring does not mean your student will take longer to graduate. Students advised by CCAS graduate at the same rate as other students on campus. Most will decide on a major between their second and fourth semesters at UW. The large majority will graduate with the first major they have chosen after exploring. 


You can help the exploration process by:


Helping them see the bigger picture

Deciding on a major takes time, and that is ok! Encourage them to have discussions with you and advisors about long-term goals beyond choosing a major. Personal growth, developing skills, and finding their passions are part of the process.


Being curious about their interests

Actively listen to your student’s thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Have them go deeper into why certain subjects interest them what they like learning. Taking time to explore their interests together can give insights into potential options.


Working to reduce their stress about not knowing their plan

Normalize the uncertainty about picking a major. It is ok for students to not have everything figured out immediately. There are many campus resources to help them find what fits best for them. Share the importance of using those resources to address their questions and concerns.


Supporting the idea that they are choosing a major, not path for life

UW-Madison has so much to choose from, so it is natural that their interests might change. Encourage your student to keep an open mind about different subjects and possibilities. All
majors provide skills that are applicable across the job market.


Reminding them that they have support

Reassure them that they have sources of support and encouragement throughout their journey. Express confidence in their ability to find what is right for them. Celebrating their efforts and accomplishments, not matter how small, goes a long way!

Encouraging them to meet with their advisor regularly

Highlight the value of advisors and how they provide guidance, support, and resources. Once or twice a semester is usually enough, and sometimes students will see us more often. We encourage students to meet with us as often as they need.