We have general education requirements for a reason.
The first year of college can be an overwhelming one. Universities expect students to learn a great deal of information, and sometimes freshmen find that classes are taught much more rigorously than they are used to from high school. Incoming students face pressure not only from the classes themselves but also from the harsh job market they will face when they finish their educations. Under such enormous stresses, some students hurry to decide on their major so they can start working towards it right away. As a senior with some experience in upper level classes, however, I caution freshmen to not rush such an important decision by picking a major too early. On the contrary, I encourage new students to get the most they can out of their general education classes and get a sense of what a major will be like before making that choice.
Sometimes looking at the specific requirements for a major doesn’t do much to reduce this anxiety. Incoming freshman should rightly be concerned about how they are going to get the necessary credits in time to graduate. I certainly won’t fault anyone who picked a major the first semester of their freshman year. With the whole breadth of work that must be done, it is no wonder that many freshmen quickly move to drop the “undecided” label and start immediately putting their mind toward graduation.
The problem is that in this rush to make the decision, we can lose sight of how important it really is. A degree can open up post-college job prospects and act as a stepping stone to a career path. If a student ends up deciding they don’t like their major a year after declaring it, it is much harder to make a change than if they waited before declaring it in the first place. It is even harder to make that change after graduation, and many new graduates end up regretting their majors because they don’t find the field satisfying or dislike the job choices within it. Major selection should be carefully considered because it can make the difference between an unsatisfying career and a dream job.
None of that will sound reassuring to the time-pressed freshman who wants to get the decision over with. However, with a little bit of planning it is possible for freshmen to keep exploring their options even as they maintain a tight graduation schedule.
Anxiety about the need to hurry up and decide can cause us to overlook the great degree of flexibility that most major programs provide. There is some room for electives in just about every major, and taking these classes freshman year enables students to make a more informed decision. In addition, general education credits can be a great opportunity for new students to explore the options and decide what it is they really want to do. Even the tightest schedules offer time for exploration.
Education builds on itself. Students who pick a major quickly might decide to rush into the upper-level classes and realize later on that it isn’t what they want. Many majors require ‘cross-disciplinary’ classes, as well as some foundational classes that might be required for more than one major. By starting with these classes, freshmen can get an idea of what it is they like and don’t like about the field before making a final decision.
The most important piece of advice I have for freshmen scratching their heads about this decision is to take some deep breaths. You have already had at least a few opportunities to get a feel for what subjects you like and don’t like. College will offer you additional chances before you must make the final call. Between general education, electives, career exploration classes and clubs, you have the time and the means to make the best decision you can make when it comes to selecting a major. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something far more fulfilling then you could’ve possibly imagined.