High school seniors face many choices when preparing for graduation and enrolling in college. One of the more difficult choices for some students involves selecting a major.
According to studybreaks.com, 20% to 50% of students enroll in college as “undecided” majors.
Thomas Hawks, dean of academic advising and support at Kenyon College in Gambier, and John Naughton, vice president of enrollment and student success at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, said an unsure or undecided student has a few options to make the decision easier.
“It really begins with the college search,” Naughton said. “Part of that is when students go through the college search, they have trouble deciding what they want to do for the rest of their lives. That is hard for a 17-year-old to determine. The best way to look at it is to use the undergraduate experience as building the individual, and graduate school is preparing for a career.”
With that in mind, Naughton encouraged students who may be unsure to approach college as an opportunity to meet new people, experience different things and learn topics they’ve never had the chance to before.
“Talk to faculty and ask questions – and don’t just ask what they like about their job, ask what they don’t like too,” he noted. “Don’t just sit on a path, too. If you do come in as a certain major, keep your mind open and don’t be afraid to change your plans.”
Hawks said at Kenyon College, students are encouraged to take classes in all of the major divisions – fine arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.
“Our advisers encourage students to do that early because the best way for students to figure out their major is to try out some classes and find what interests them,” he said. “A lot of things we offer here are classes students may not have had the chance to take in high school. That to me is really critical.”
Another way to find where a student fits in the academic journey lies within internships, Naughton said.
“It doesn’t have to be an opportunity for you to get your foot in the door somewhere,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to determine if you want to go through that door at all. If you have people in your life in a career that interests you, ask them if you can shadow them. Take advantage of the summer to explore those career fields and think about life down the road. Can you see yourself doing this for the next 10 to 20 years? What does it mean for the long term?”
If students are still unsure about their major, advising offices can help.
“Advising is one of the things we emphasize here,” Hawks noted. “We make sure the moment students arrive on campus that they have a faculty adviser. And they aren’t chosen randomly – we have students fill out a data form after I read each application, and connect them with a faculty member with whom they can form a strong, nurturing relationship.”
In the event a student is still struggling to commit, Naughton encouraged them to embrace the uncertainty.
“That is really the essence of what the undergraduate experience is,” he explained. “Just be open to the new experiences, conversations and ways of looking at things. That is going to help you on the journey of figuring out what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to grow and change who you are or sit with the decisions you made. Understand that at the end of the day, choosing a major is not a prison sentence.”
Hawk added, “It may also help the students to think that they are not taking on a job that they need to be committed to forever. It’s just the way they are choosing to begin – and they aren’t locking themselves into a particular job or career.”