Q: I'm a high school senior looking at what university I might want to attend.  I would like to be able to look into courses for animation/digital arts, critical studies (for cinematic arts), game design, computer science, or computer engineering. I currently have no experience in any of those areas, nor do I know for sure if I want to devote myself to any of them.

I want a university that will allow me to take courses to help me learn if I would enjoy a career in those areas, while also allowing me to complete entry level prerequisites, so I have the experience and knowledge to go for a major when I am ready. Unfortunately, I do not know what these courses are. I only know the names of the majors, and schools that offer all of those majors seem to be too expensive. How can I learn about prerequisites, and whether I would enjoy a job in that area?

A: You have excellent questions, and obviously you have been thinking seriously about the next step in your education. Many high school seniors are unsure of what they ought to choose as a major, and then they worry that a major might be a wrong choice when it comes time to look for a career.

Luckily, the educational system in this country allows for some experimentation. Generally, the prerequisites for any major include introductory courses such as composition, introductory courses in the humanities (literature, languages other than English, social sciences, the arts) and math/science. Depending upon what courses you have taken in high school, you may begin with advanced courses in college. You can also take elective courses in different areas that you can "try on." By the end of your second year, you ought to have found an area you will be comfortable with as a major, and then you will concentrate on that.

But more good news! The actual major you choose as an undergraduate is not as important as your development of a strong skill set. If you are able to write well, speak well—both of these require your being able to present ideas in a clear and organized fashion—find information, and have a good grasp of math and science, you can apply these to many different areas. You will need to be flexible.

If you want to find out about actual courses offered before applying, college websites usually post course catalogues that give you an overview of offerings. For example, a search for "animation" on theNew School's website brought up a few dozen matches.

All colleges have advising offices where you can speak with professionals who can guide you on your search. You will not have to decide anything right now—it's a gradual process of self-discovery. Perhaps short internships or summer positions might help you experience what a field is like. There is no need to worry at this point. Take it step by step. 

You are absolutely correct in saying that many colleges seem expensive. Many private colleges charge—when you add up tuition, housing, meals, and books—$60,000 a year Some families go deeply into debt for this. This makes no sense when more reasonably-priced alternatives are available. Take a look at the CUNY and SUNY schools. You might also consider a community college, which is the most economical way to earn credits that can be applied to a 4-year degree. Many students choose to attend a community college for two years, and then transfer to a 4-year university (public or private) thereby saving thousands of dollars. And by all means, avoid for-profit and online schools.

At this point, you don't have to know what you want for every step of the way. But you have to start somewhere -- so take that first step.