Deciding on How Best to Help the Undecided

By: Judy Gaman

More and more colleges and universities are asking students to decide on their major and stick to the plan. This plea has not stopped students from delaying a declared major or changing their major. Instead of forcing students to choose a major so early in the process, maybe it’s best to take a closer look at who is delaying a final decision and why. Colleges will be better served to help students if they can understand the issue and make proactive plans that benefit both the student and the college.

Who is most likely to be undecided?

Incoming freshman are the most likely to be undecided, but there is a trend of students now remaining undecided beyond their first two semesters. Since picking a major can feel like a life-long decision, some students agonize over having to choose, paralyzed in fear that they may not make the right choice. This agony may be even more prevalent in younger freshman because the prefrontal cortex (the reasoning portion of the brain) is still developing. Simply put, they don’t have the tools in their psychological toolbox.

Slippery and sticky majors

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, up to 80% of college students change their major, some more than once. These numbers reflect students who perhaps chose a major in an effort to comply, rather than based on a personal goal they felt passionate about. For example, only about a quarter of healthcare majors change, in comparison to over half of math majors. According to the U.S. Department of Education, IT majors are much like healthcare majors with about a third changing. Many students who drop out of STEM majors do so because they had not anticipated the difficulty of the course load. That’s not to say that healthcare majors are easier, but maybe students who go into healthcare do so because they felt called to the field. In addition, most IT majors are students who already enjoy computers and have a working knowledge of what they will be studying.

Is it such a bad thing?

There was a school of thought by colleges that changing a major may jeopardize completion. In addition, many parents discouraged it on the basis of financials. Why pay for courses that don’t serve you in the long run? Both these schools of thought may be completely off target according to research published by the Education Advisory Board. After reviewing over 78,000 students, they found that students who changed their major graduated at a rate of 82-84% compared to 78% - the average graduation rate of those who stuck with their original major. The EAB also debunked the financial fears of parents, disclosing that many students who went as far as their fifth term did not see their time to graduation increase. Even as many as a quarter of seniors who changed majors where able to complete their degrees within four years.

Solutions that work

The best solution to the undecided and indecisive may not be to force early choices, but to instead savor the process. Colleges have a unique opportunity to help students develop their passion by encouraging exploratory summer courses and programs, as well as internships where students can get a feel for different fields of study. This is a great opportunity for alumni to step up and mentor current students. Choosing qualified alumni and offering them the opportunity to grow their resume with the title adjunct professor will offer a win-win-win for the college, the alumnus, and the student. If a student can see it – they can dream it - they can achieve it. 

Bio: Judy Gaman, MSPS, BSHS is a motivational speaker who is dedicated to helping students find their passion. You can learn more by going to JudyGaman.com or attending her showcase at the APCA Nationals in February.

 

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