Major Decisions and Career Questions

Applications in the fall, acceptances in spring, enrollment come autumn and a major declaration by the end of the first year, or even, the first semester, and finally, a career to match the major—the script is written, but is it right?

While tens of millions of new students enroll in college each fall, the NCES reports that only approximately 60% of these students end up graduating. Research has shown that a student’s probability of graduating is correlated to whether or not they changed majors during college. While students who stuck with their initial major post an average graduation rate of 78%, those who declared a new major anywhere from the second to the eighth term of enrollment reported average graduation rates of 82-84%. That means they were as much as 6% more likely to graduate—an increase significant enough to warrant attention.

How could this be the case, though? Parents have encouraged their children for years to figure out what they want to do, major in that, and stick with it. After all, that’s how you’ll get a good job and have a good life, isn’t it? However, some researchers speculate that this may actually be one of the reasons why the graduation rate of those who choose a major early and stick with it is lower—family pressure may often be what keeps a student in their major, or a feeling of obligation rather than a real and certain desire to pursue something. These are only speculations, and any other number of causes likely exist, but what the statistics have shown to be true is that switching majors is a positive experience and helps students to end up where they actually want to be, and to end up finishing school. A student doesn’t need to have life figured out by the end of their freshman year in order to be successful.

Not only is that the case, but, as Brooks demonstrates in her book You Majored in What?, it isn’t really necessary to put so much stress on choosing the ‘right’ major. In 21st century America, what a person studied at school often has no direct correlation to what they end up with for a career—that pattern of thought is left-over from the early twentieth-century, but is not necessarily applicable today (Brooks, 5). According to Brooks, the career path today is a little more complicated and a lot more chaotic—it’s less to do with one particular factor (like a major) that sets a person on a linear path to a career and more to do with all of the random and unexpected things that happen in a person’s life as they work towards developing a career (9).

College students today face enormous amounts of stress, particularly as they look forward to the unknown that is post-grad life. Over the next few months, we’ll be targeting some of the sources of that anxiety—like the importance of a major, and how it might not actually make or break a person’s career—and addressing the assumptions therein, challenging the norms we’ve come to accept. We’ll feature graduates, explain what some of the experts are saying, and offer the best advice we can as you consider all things major and post-grad life!

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