by Kelsey Hausman
Deciding which college to attend and getting accepted is a difficult feat within itself, but choosing the appropriate major when you are just 17 or 18 years old is simply an unreasonable task.
First-year students may not be prepared to choose a major right off the bat because making that decision requires an understanding of one’s individual goals, values, and interests based on self-reflection.
Freshmen are used to living under the guidance of others and have not yet fully explored their individual identity. Never having to make independent decisions causes students to choose an unsuitable major because they are highly influenced by the opinions of others such as family members and peers.
To increase the rates at which students graduate within four years, many institutions have implemented policies that encourage students to declare a major as quickly as possible and stick with it, according to the Education Advisory Board (EAB), but this policy is counter to the needs of the students.
According to a study by the EAB, students who declared a major during their first semester in college and stuck with it were four percentage points less likely to graduate than students who finalized their major decision during their second semester or later.
In a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80 percent of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once and on average college students change their major at least three times throughout their college career.
Young and inexperienced people are not ready to decide what direction of study they will take as soon as they come to college. Without having yet experienced college classes and what different subjects have to offer, first year students declare a major based on influence and assumption rather than their own personal goals and values.
According to a College Student Journal survey, more than 800 students were asked what factors played a role in how they chose their career path. Answers included: a general interest the student had in the subject he or she chose, family and peer influence, assumptions about introductory courses, potential job characteristics, and characteristics of the major.
According to Liz Freedman of Penn State’s Academic Advising Journal students will experience the stages of William Perry’s intellectual and ethical development theory.
Students will first experience “dualism,” where they believe there is one right major for them and they look to advisors, parents, peers, and faculty for the answer instead of conducting their own research, analyzing their own personal goals and self reflecting.
The next stage, “multiplicity,” signifies the ability to recognize that various options are available when a single answer cannot be determined. At this stage students may be ready to narrow down their major preferences, but it isn’t until the relativism stage when the student is more developed and sure of themselves that they can truly decide on a major based on what they know about their interests, goals, and values.
There is a misconception between where traditional freshmen students are developmentally and the level of development required to make a successful choice in major.
In fact, waiting to choose a major and taking the first year to explore different subjects and what best suits a student’s personality can lead to better grades. According to a 2006 Canadian study, researchers followed 80,574 students in eighty-seven colleges during a five-year period, results showed that good grades are related to having a major close to one’s personality.
Other studies show when a student is invested in and passionate about what they are learning they are more likely to graduate.
Many schools, including Franklin Pierce University encourage students to declare or show interest in a specific major when signing up for classes their freshman year. Students will sign up for some classes in the area they think they are interested in as well as other general education courses. Students can change majors, but by the second semester of their sophomore year, one must be declared to ensure graduation within four years.
When students enter Franklin Pierce, or any university, the number and types of majors and career paths open to them can be overwhelming. Schools can adapt to guide and help their students explore and analyze all major options.
What universities need to offer is a structured freshman year that focuses on student major and career exploration while simultaneously keeping them on track to graduate within four years.
Franklin Pierce University requires all first-year students to take a First-Year inquiry class that go in-depth on topics they have shown interest in from gender studies to history to sustainability, but they do not necessarily teach students about all the various majors and programs FPU has to offer.
Colleges across the nation could modify their first-year programs to educate students on their options by offering career assessments, exploratory workshops, or implementing summer programs.
Certain institutions, like Georgia State University are now offering “meta-majors” or clusters of courses in the same general field that allow undeclared students to explore an area of interest without fully committing to a single major while also giving them applicable credit towards graduation.
At Georgia State, students register for one of seven meta-majors in fields such as business, STEM, or Arts & Humanities. A student who wished to become an accountant, for example would enroll in the business meta-major, but if down the line they wanted to change to management, all previously earned credits could be transferred and counted towards the degree.
Georgia State also requires first year students to take a one-credit course that teaches students skills to navigate the operational, academic, and social demands of the University.
Ultimately these programs aid the indecisiveness that many first-year students experience and provide structure and guidance to place them on an academic path that they can find pride, passion and success in.