Picking a major is a daunting task. While some students know well beforehand what they want to major in, nearly 50 percent of incoming freshmen are undecided. 80 percent of freshmen at Penn State say that they are uncertain about their major, even if they have declared one. Nearly half of them will change their major, some more than once.
With an expanding variety of majors for students to choose from, it’s no wonder that there’s difficulty in deciding what to major in. Students at the University of Michigan have 251 majors to choose from while students at Arizona State University select from 250 majors. In a little over a decade, DePaul University in Chicago increased their options from 74 to 98.
Students with a declared major not only have a higher retention rate, but they are more likely to graduate in four years. While colleges and universities see the advantage in having students declare early, they also recognize the overwhelming nature of the decision and the fear of making the wrong choice. "The increased cost of tuition has removed the luxury students previously had in stumbling into a major or making mistakes," says Neeta P. Fogg, a research professor at Drexel University’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy, and co-author of “College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs”.
Administrators are not immune to the current students’ struggle to declare a major. Many universities have moved from the negative connotation of “undecided” to “exploratory”. Exploratory encourages students to experiment with unfamiliar disciplines and on the path of exploration, perhaps find a career path they were previously unaware of.
Introductory courses provide a general overview of the topic. Course sizes are typically larger, making them easier to get into, and the lack of pre-requisites allows them to be flexible in setting a schedule. An additional advantage to introductory courses is their ability to serve as electives. If that course didn’t spark a student’s interest, they can count that towards their general elective requirement.
Introductory courses expose students to fields previously unexplored. Mary Beth Collier, the dean of academic advising at the State University of New York at New Paltz, tells students: “You’ve taken the same six subjects since kindergarten. If you don’t know your major, don’t come here and take the same subjects expecting to figure it out.”
While introductory courses provide an insight into careers and options not previously thought about, students should still have a plan in place. Don’t abandon core courses in math and science that are required in many majors such as psychology, social sciences and business. Some majors are easier to change out of then in to. Majors that follow a sequence of courses like engineering are difficult, if not impossible, to get into later on in your college career. Deciding on a major can be overwhelming; utilizing introductory courses may ease the decision-making process.