“Perhaps the most daunting part of applying to Cal Poly,” I say on every Poly Reps tour, “is declaring your major.”

As seniors in high school, few 17-year-olds can say with confidence that they know what they’ll be doing for the rest of their lives. In fact, it’s a huge turnoff for a lot of students.

“I didn’t apply to Cal Poly because I didn’t want to declare,” they’ll say. “And I heard it’s impossible to change your major.”

It begs the age-old question — is it necessary to force us, as angst-ridden teens crippled with senioritis, to declare a major? A major, on which our future hinges, on which our financial security rests, on which our future happiness relies? The answer is always yes.

But I changed my major, didn’t I? Yes. And the major change process only confirmed my belief that declaring your major is imperative to fully experience Cal Poly’s “Learn By Doing” philosophy.

From hours spent in the admissions office before and after tours, I know the perfectly delivered spiel on why Cal Poly requires the frightening declaration. But I have also seen the benefits of this declaration myself.

Let’s start at the beginning of this process.

When your application is submitted, it’s compared only to applicants who declared the same major. This meant my SAT scores weren’t compared to my engineering friends, whose math scores could have been double mine.

Though our admissions process is done by a computer, declaring your major makes the automated process more personal. Cal Poly understands that it doesn’t take an 800 in the math portion to be a good writer, nor does it take 800 in the verbal to be a good biologist.

So you’ve now been accepted to Cal Poly and are enrolled in your first quarter of classes — which includes major courses. A twist on classic higher education, Cal Poly prefers the “upside down” curriculum, which starts us off with major courses and peppers in general education courses throughout our four (or five) years here. Here you have two options: you can fall completely, entirely, utterly in love with your major — or you can hate it.

And I hated modern languages and literature.

College is about figuring out who you want to be and what you want to do. But it’s also about figuring out who you don’t want to be and what you don’t want to do. I didn’t want to be a language major — I wanted to be a journalist.

But what’s beautiful about this upside-down curriculum — which you can’t have without declaring a major — is that I figured out right away that I didn’t want to be a language major. I didn’t have to dabble all over the course catalog. And despite what Cal Poly’s naysayers might preach, I had no trouble changing my major.

“If the juice is worth the squeeze, you’ll make it work,” I say to worried kids on tours.

By declaring your major before arriving at Cal Poly you give yourself four (or five or six) years in your field of study. Four years of experience. That means you have two years on a Berkeley grad. Not only do you have four years in your major, but you have four years of Learn By Doing. In some cases, that’s four extra years of hands-on experience that your competitors don’t have.

That extra hands-on experience, which starts at major declaration, makes us marketable. It makes employers keep offices on campus out of which they recruit Cal Poly students. It keeps employers coming to the job fair year after year, quarter after quarter. Because when it comes down to it, Cal Poly students require six to 12 months less training than the average college grad, President Jeffrey Armstrong said in an interview last fall.

I know changing your major isn’t fun. But when you graduate, and you’re whisked away into your dream job because you spent four years studying whatever it is you studied, you’ll be thinking “Jeeze, I’m so glad I declared early.”

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