Jaxon Silva is a civil engineering sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
Picture this: a senior in high school sits down and is told that right then and there they have to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life until they retire.
How much faith would you put in that teenager to choose the major they would be completely satisfied with for the rest of their working lives? How much faith would or did you put in yourself in that situation?
Cal Poly is unique, as it tends to stress prospective freshman into having their major figured out before they start their academic careers at Cal Poly. Once students begin their degree, Cal Poly makes it extremely hard for students to switch majors, as they have to attend special workshops, required classes and have to follow an Individualized Change of Major Agreement (ICMA).
Other schools generally have a petition for change of major and some required coursework for the harder majors or majors that a lot of students try to switch into.
While the idea behind Cal Poly’s intensive change of major is to streamline the process for students to enter major coursework during their first year of study, what it really does is cause students unnecessary stress. It also wastes students’ valuable time and money.
The 1995 book “The Undecided College Student: An Academic and Career Advising Challenge” found that an estimated 75 percent of college students change their major before graduation.
Even a fraction of this number would indicate that many students are not satisfied with their initial choice.
In the 2013 Penn State study “The Developmental Disconnect in Choosing a Major: Why Institutions Should Prohibit Choice until Second Year”, Liz Freedman elaborates that the reason for this challenge for first-year students to successfully select and retain a major is due to freshman students not being developmentally ready to decide on a path that most reflects their values and ideals.
This can be seen in Cal Poly itself, as 94 percent of all of the major changes in the 2017-18 academic year were for freshmen. Approximately a quarter of the freshman class for 2017-18 changed their major that academic year.
However, there is also a disconnect between the perceived view a freshman student may have of their major before entering college compared to the understanding they form once fully immersed in their coursework.
In recognition of this, some colleges like University of Washington and Baylor University have pre-major coursework for their freshman students. This allows students to gain a better understanding of their major and whether or not it is the right fit for them before they get in over their head with major-specific coursework.
I understand the existing system in place is efficient compared to having an undecided major. Placing someone in their preferred major at the beginning of college means that they can take major-level courses earlier than other schools. However, to assume that every student who enters Cal Poly knows everything about their major and career they are studying for is unrealistic.
Instead of boxing in students and making it difficult for them to switch majors, why not first let students explore what’s out there? After all, they are the ones paying for the education. Students should be able to see what their intended major looks like in the real world, and that is not a view that every student gets to experience in high school.
We should be prioritizing career exploration and self-discovery during freshman year here at Cal Poly. Under the current system in unit-intensive majors such as civil engineering, students don’t have the time to do so without making sacrifices.
A study by Canadian researchers Terence Tracey and Steve Robbins followed 80,574 students in 87 colleges over a five-year period. They found the best GPA scores correlated most to having a major strongly related to one’s personality and values.
Wouldn’t it be even more efficient to help students have a complete idea about their major by their second year than to have third-year students panicking because they have no clue what they want to do post-grad?
We could easily dedicate a year-long class toward career exploration and self-discovery and give students the opportunity to truly discover what major and career calls to them. If students want to jump in to fast-track their academic progress, they can submit a petition to be removed from the class. Sure, it would require working with the different colleges to coordinate their coursework to accommodate the career exploration class, but for students to truly know what they are doing, it is worth it.
Yes, some students will have a definite idea of what they want to study by the time they apply, and that’s great. But for the rest of us, shouldn’t we get an extra year to truly explore what these majors are really like? Is it really that hard to implement an undecided major, or even dedicate freshmen year to providing students the necessary tools to help decide their future career more easily and effectively than the current system at hand allows?