For high school and new college students, the question of what to major in can be daunting. It's a rite of passage to be undecided, and even those who enter college with unwavering certainty about their chosen major often find themselves on a winding path of change. The truth is, not having a clear major in mind is entirely appropriate at this stage of life. At age 18 or 19, students are still in the early stages of forming their identities, and there's a wealth of learning and growth ahead of them. This period of exploration and transformation is one of the fundamental goals of higher education.
Understanding the Role of a College Major
College majors play a crucial role in higher education, providing depth and specialization in a student's chosen field. A major typically consists of ten or more courses within a specific academic discipline, ranging from introductory to advanced levels. While they make up roughly a third of a student's undergraduate degree, having a major is essential in fostering expertise and critical thinking in a particular area.
In addition to major requirements, colleges often include core requirements encompassing a wide range of academic subjects and areas of interest. These requirements wrap around the major, providing students with a breadth of knowledge. Major and non-major requirements equip students with essential skills such as critical thinking, communication, advocacy, writing, and problem-solving, which transcend any specific field and are highly valuable in various careers.
Some majors, like engineering or nursing, are more specialized and career-oriented, offering less room for broad education. These programs focus intensely on the chosen discipline, leaving only a small amount of the curriculum to study and explore other subjects. The exact balance may vary from one institution to another.
Considering the Future: Careers and the Unknown
It's natural and logical for students to consider future job prospects when choosing a major. College education comes at a significant cost, so it's reasonable to want that investment to pay off financially and lead to a rewarding career. However, avoiding viewing college education solely through a pre-professional lens is important. The reality is that the jobs of the future don't even exist today. Being educated in a broad range of areas, such as in a liberal arts educational experience, and possessing a diverse skill set is valuable preparation for a wide range of careers, including those that have yet to emerge.
Supporting High School Students in Choosing a College Major
There are numerous ways to support high school students as they navigate the process of choosing a major:
Choosing a College for Undecided Students
When compiling a college list, it's crucial to consider schools that fit undecided students well. These institutions should offer support for exploring different majors and provide the flexibility to switch between majors if needed.
The selection process should focus on finding schools that align with the student's needs, interests, and goals. A college's reputation, selectivity, or ranking should not be the sole criteria for inclusion. It's essential to ensure students can pursue their academic aspirations and explore a major of interest at each institution.
Undecided students interested in a highly competitive major such as computer science but with a range of other academic interests should consider applying as an undecided student. Sometimes, demonstrating a broad range of interests can lead to better admission outcomes.
An Action Plan for Undecided College Students
Once in college, undecided students should take advantage of the resources available to them:
Additional steps that students can take include:
In this journey of self-discovery, students should embrace uncertainty and remain open to new possibilities. College is not just about finding the right major; it's about students evolving as individuals, gaining skills, and discovering passions that will shape their future. As they walk their academic path, let them explore, ask questions, and embrace the changes that come their way. After all, the journey itself often leads to the most profound discoveries and rewards.