As the summer break ends, moms and dads rejoice that their youngsters will once again be ensconced in all things educational.
Sooner or later, even the most indecisive college students will have to declare a major that will hopefully prepare them for future careers. Many four-year schools, like Occidental College in Eagle Rock, allow students to declare a major at the end of their sophomore year, enabling students to enroll in a range of courses before making their decision.
California’s community colleges, however, have adopted new policies that aim to speed up the decision-making process. At Pasadena City College, for example, students must select a major after they complete 15 degree-applicable units. Cynthia Olivo, PCC’s associate vice president, student affairs, said about 2,100 of the more than 5,000 freshman who entered PCC in the fall of 2014 completed 15 units in their first year and were ready to declare their majors.
The early declaration requirement is included in the Student Success Act of 2012, a state law that seeks to reduce the number of community college students who drop out without completing their education. Proponents of early declaration believe the sooner students understand and commit to a major, the more progress they will make in completing their education in a shorter period of time.
“Students can’t stretch out their educations,” said Marisa R. Sarian, director of College and Career Pathways for the Pasadena Unified School District. “Exploration and discovering your passion has to happen at an early age.”
The Pathways program enables PUSD students to begin that exploration in the ninth grade.
High school students select one of 10 college and career pathways to prepare them to work in high-demand jobs within the local economy. There are three arts-related pathways (film and video, fine and media arts, and music), three STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) pathways (engineering, computer science, and health careers) and pathways in law and public service, culinary arts and hospitality, and business and entrepreneurship. The 10th pathway is a career exploration program designed for students attending alternative education schools.
The school district has teamed with PCC to deliver the Pathways program. For example, Olivo worked with a group of ninth-graders from Muir High School who took a career exploration course at the community college. PCC will follow up with these students when they are in the 10th through 12th grades to learn how they are pursuing their career goals.
PCC also provides assistance to help its own students explore career options. The Career-Guided Exploration Module (CGEM) contains several components, including counseling and online research, aimed at helping students learn about prospective jobs.
Despite these efforts to help students declare a career-related major, Olivo said, “The reality is that students change their majors all the time; the average is twice.”
In deciding upon a career — and the major that will allow them to pursue it — Olivo advised students to “select a career that is interesting to them, that suits their talents. Happiness will follow if you are doing something you enjoy and are good at it.
“These days,” she added, “students should also be aware of salaries.”
Fritz Grupe, creator of MyMajors.com, told The New York Times that the biggest mistake students make in selecting a major is failing to research the requirements of both the major and their prospective career. While some students may want to become nurses because they like to help people, they must also be able to pass the technical math and science courses that are part of their major.
A student’s major, however, often has no relation to their future career. The Princeton Review, an organization that helps students prepare for college, maintains that selecting a major does not mean a student is locked into one type of job: “Many graduates find jobs that have nothing to do with what they studied in college. According to the US Department of Labor, the average 20-something switches jobs once every three years and the average person changes career fields two or three times in their lifetime.”
Students who are undecided about their major when they enter college are advised to take courses in which they are interested; learn more about majors by talking with professors, advisers and students; find an internship and interview people who work in their field of interest; and assess their personal interests, abilities and work values.
Students can also take the MyMajors.com quiz. Based on their answers, the website will recommend majors, colleges and careers.
Another option is for students to declare a double major, taking required courses for two majors instead of one. They can also declare both a major and a minor; the minor will enable them to concentrate on a subject while taking fewer required courses. However, these options are time-intensive, and students will have less time to explore their interests.