Like the majority of incoming freshmen at Cal Poly, I was only 17 when I chose my major.
How the hell did I know what I wanted to do?
Now, at 21, I find myself in the same, uncomfortable position I was in just a few years ago. I have grown up with the ideological mindset of “I can do anything I want to,” and “the future is bright.” But now I am finding there are far too many options, and frankly, I just can’t decide.
I am not alone in my failure to envision my future. More than half of college freshmen are undecided about their major and an estimated two-thirds change their major at least once.
In 2003, the University of South Carolina released a 25-year-long longitudinal study examining first-year students who entered universities undecided. The study surveyed roughly 20,000 students between 1974 and 1999 in an attempt to obtain a profile on the undecided student population.
The results were very interesting specifically regarding apprehension and concern in the decision process. Researchers discovered that a student’s anxiety directly correlated with inability to choose a major and they calculated that more than 80 percent of participants were either “very” or “somewhat” anxious choosing a major.
While only 22 percent of the participants categorized themselves as “completely undecided,” the results illustrate the incredible stress associated with choosing a major.
The majority of high school graduates have yet to mature to a level where they can really comprehend what they want in the future. And although it is understood that one doesn’t need to pick and stick with a career their entire adult life, there is still a general seriousness associated with a degree – as there should be – making the challenge of deciding all the more difficult with the added stress.
Another interesting element from the survey was a student’s motivation for choosing a major: The No. 1 value among entering college students was “being well-off financially.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it is disappointing.
Monetary success is a goal when preparing for a career, but pursuing higher education should be associated with intellectual stimulation and enjoyment of academia. College is a time of education and self-discovery but many American universities are failing their students in that sense.
Strict guidelines and fixed programs are required in order to ensure quality and preparedness for certain careers and they act as a way of keeping a constant stream of students on track and moving predictably through a curriculum. General education requirements, upper and lower division support courses and major classes absorb all of the units students have time for, leaving interests and enjoyable courses only for the few who find themselves with extra study time and free units prior to graduation.
Cal Poly and other universities need to establish a better way to fulfill all degree requirements while allowing students an increased number of free electives. I have found my most stimulating courses have been those not required by my department but those I have enrolled in out of interest.
Each time I complete a class that I have enjoyed, I predictably ask myself the same question: “Is this what I really should be studying?”
My greatest fear for the future is looking back on my life with disappointment. We all run a risk of being dissatisfied with ourselves tomorrow if we do not discover our passions today. Unfortunately, the current method of university-level education does not leave much time nor many units to uncover hidden interests.
College is the one time when we are free and are expected to make these discoveries, while our careers and families wait in the future. The four years at a university should be one of few selfish times in our adult lives when we can focus entirely on fulfilling our personal curiosities.
As a graduating senior I find myself dealing with the same anxiety and asking myself the same questions I did four years ago. Reminiscing on the stress I felt over deciding a major, I have changed my approach in responding to these questions.
First, I have decided it is pertinent that I follow my interests to ensure a successful and happy career. Second, and most importantly, I have to remember that nothing is final. Although I ended up enjoying and continuing with my education in journalism, I know a career in this field is not my only option following graduation.
My anxiety over the future will never end, as well as the annoying pokes and prods by those around me trying to anticipate the next steps in my life. If anything, solace lies in knowing I still have two quarters and about 32 units to figure it out.
Taylor Moore is a journalism senior and a Mustang Daily columnist.