A major misconception about choosing a college major is that it is mandatory for an incoming freshman. Perhaps surprisingly, applying to college as an undecided high school senior is preferred by many admissions staffs because it eases the pressure of accepting a student into a certain program in their school. This means flexibility. About 60 percent of college students are undecided majors, making it the most popular choice. In most colleges and universities, students do not have to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year. It makes sense to take general education classes early on so that when students do decide on a major, they can take full advantage of that.
The main reason many are pressured into choosing a major early is the price of higher education. It would be ideal to enter college knowing your intended major but about 50 percent of college students who do start out with a specific major end up switching one or more times during their college careers. What students and family members might fail to realize is that major classes cannot count as credits for any other major. One's business credits will probably not count towards a nursing degree. Since the possibility of switching majors is so high, it would be more clever and cheaper to start out taking a variety of entry classes that would count toward any major and that will allow students to explore and make a decision.
College freshmen are often compelled to choose a practical major that will assure them a future job. For many, until college, everything is decided for them, but college comes with much responsibility and independence. Students can now select their classes and make their schedules. Like a buffet table, there are so many options available. It is wise for college freshmen to be exposed to many fields, to broaden and enrich their palates so that when they are ready to decide, they know that their decision is right. They may never get another opportunity to challenge themselves in a way that approaches the college experience.
Another issue with choosing a college major early on is the battle between passion and practicality. It makes sense to study something one is enthusiastic about, but one's interests and desires can change.
Sometimes people don't know what they want for the rest of their lives -- or they're simply passionate about a variety of things. When students study what they love, they inevitably do better and enjoy a more enriching experience. But when undergraduates can't choose a college major, they often decide to pursue careers that offer the highest salaries and that are most in demand. Scholars who do this do not realize that the best careers of tomorrow might not even exist today. Our world is a global, technology driven, and rapidly changing place.
Finally, students need to realize that undergraduate majors are not even that important when it comes to getting a job or to being accepted into graduate school. Employers and admissions counselors will not care so much about one's major. Instead they will be more concerned with what they did outside of the classroom and whether they are well rounded individuals. Employers in the most desirable fields seek a broad range of skills, especially the ability to write and speak.
So what happened to my childhood dream of becoming a doctor? Life is not static.
People and their interests are ever changing and developing. College students must understand that a major alone does not decide their future and that choosing the wrong major does not mean they are doomed. Students may ultimately be best suited for a career they may not even know exists at the time they graduate -- because it may not in fact yet exist.
College is a crucial time for exploration and discovery. Deciding not to decide too early may be one of the best decisions a college student can make.
Joyce Sunday is a CSU Bakersfield student majoring in biology. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.