Students should be given more time to pick a major

The downfalls of forcing students to declare majors early

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Students should be given more time to pick a major

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

By Alanna Joachim, Collegian Columnist

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It was a pleasantly warm summer day in June and all I wanted to do was be outside enjoying the nice weather. Instead, I was sitting in a stifling hot engineering-lab room, listening to Gregory Brown , the assistant dean of undergraduate advising in the College of Engineering talk about engineering at the University of Massachusetts. I remember when he spoke about how engineering was a strict career path, and how switching majors any time after freshman year might mean that he was looking at the class of 2023 instead of 2022. This sentiment was intimidating to a freshman like me, and I hadn’t even stepped foot in my first college class yet!

At many colleges and universities, there is a lot of pressure to choose a major early on in a student’s career. Part of this has to do with graduating on time; if a student switches majors too late they may not able to complete the necessary coursework in time to graduate along with their classmates, meaning extra money and time spent in classes when they could be joining the workforce. While I understand the need to give students a deadline so that they do not fall behind, freshman year is too early to make this kind of life-altering choice.

UMass gives students the option of being on an exploratory track, which is designed to give students who are still not sure what they want to study, as well as those not accepted in their first choice major, a general exposure to many majors offered at UMass. Many other colleges also offer similar pathways that help students develop their interests and passions into a major, or some require students to choose a school or college within the overall University, but not a major. Most students are given until the end of their sophomore year to declare their major, but in the engineering college at UMass this deadline is the end of freshman year.

Besides trying to help students graduate on time, there isn’t much benefit in pressuring students to decide their career path as early as freshman year. The first semester of freshman year is spent adapting and transitioning to a completely different way of life for first-year students. As a second-semester freshman, I have settled in to college life, but I still am in no way prepared to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life. And since most students, 80 percent in fact, will change their major anyway during their time in college, what is the point of making them declare one that early? It is better for students to take the time to adjust to college, academically and socially, before they choose a career path. I think students should be given the option to choose a major early on, but there should be less pressure to decide as early into their freshman or sophomore year.

In addition, forcing students to choose a major that early on can give them an overall dislike of their college experience. Some students pick a major based off of other influences, like parents or feelings of obligation. This can lead to self-doubt and general unhappiness in their future career path. They may choose to transfer schools altogether, believing that their unhappiness is caused by the college or university, but instead it may be from being forced into one career path too fast.

Giving students more time to figure out what they really want to do, while still giving them guidelines for doing so, such as exploratory tracks, will allow students to truly cultivate their passions in a way that a structured and rigid career path right off the bat cannot.

Personally, I feel like deciding my major after freshman year is too soon. So far, I’ve only taken introductory engineering courses, and it’s hard to get a strong feeling of what a career in engineering would be like. Only time and experience in the field will be able to help make me more confident in my choice, but most internships are not available or applicable until junior or senior year. Colleges and universities should be more conscious of how students struggle with choosing a career early on and allow them more time to decide.

Alanna Joachim is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]