Generations Yap…. About Choosing a College Major!
Welcome to a new weekly feature here on the USF Encounter website called, Generations Yap.
At one point or another, we’ve all complained about the previous generation and vice versa. These complaints are typically peppered into obvious generalizations i.e. the current generation are “too lazy” and the previous generation is “too serious”.
However, where does the truth lay among the people and their experiences, specifically, as they have entered adulthood? To find out, over the next few months, here and in our print issue, I’ll be discussing certain facets of the college experience with former and current college students. This is all to see how the college experience has changed and gotten easier or harder over the decades.
This week, we begin the discussion of choosing a college major by talking to two University of St. Francis students, Julia Huinker and Irma Sandoval. Both girls are seniors, Julia studies Social Work and Irma studies Math with a Secondary Certification.
Julia: “I started as a Biology [major] with a Pre-Physical Therapy concentration [first semester of her freshman year] and then I changed to Teaching [second semester of her freshman year] and then I changed to Special Education. […] The first semester of my junior year I changed to Social Work.”
Irma: “I actually came in as a Math/Computer Science [major] and I switched [the beginning of] my third year.”
Julia told me that while she had entered in as a freshman with the intention of getting her Physical Therapy certification, she had difficulty passing a Biology course.
Julia: “[…] It was in the middle of the semester and I was getting in trouble […with her grades] and I also played basketball. I needed to make a smarter decision to keep me eligible. I still liked helping people, I liked talking to people so, that’s why I switched to education.”
However, after taking some course classes, she decided that wasn’t the right path for her. That summer, she did some research and found that Social Work piqued her interest.
Julia: “[The next semester] I tried some classes and I really loved it! I still want to work with children and kids but I want to do it as a school social worker.”
For Irma, the experience was similar.
Irma: “I still want to be an engineer. What I loved the most about engineering was the math part of it. So, I really loved the school [USF] so, I decided to come here and just be a Math and Computer Science major because it’s like Computer Engineering.”
When I pressed more about her interests growing up, Irma had this to say:
Irma: “Math was always my strongest subject so I really enjoyed it. […] Math is an international language and I always loved that about it; that people from Mexico and Finland all understand it.”
Julia had this to say:
Julia: “I love people, I love talking, and I love talking to people […]. I think that was a huge part of my decision in all of my majors because in Physical Therapy you’re on a client-to-client basis. In Education, you’re talking to children all day or whoever you’re teaching, and then, Social Work is like the ultimate people major. […] You’re learning about people and how to interact with them and how to better help them.”
At this point, it was incredibly clear to me that despite both girls changing their majors, their interests were broad enough that they always had a back-up plan.
Yet because they had both changed their majors—Julia more than once—I wanted to ask them whether they had felt any pressure going into college to declare.
Julia: Yeah, I didn’t really know that you couldn’t go into college undecided. But I had been around athletic training a lot so I was like, “I want to do this.” [Because] I didn’t really know that you could go in undecided I thought I was making the right decision and I was stubborn about it.
Irma: I had always heard the stigma behind not being able to decide what you wanted to do in college as [being] a negative thing. Even when family was like, “what do you want to study?”, I always had something in my head because I knew if I didn’t that that would be frowned upon. So, I just took what I enjoyed most about school and what my passion was [Education and Math/Technology] and that’s how I chose the major I did.
After this conversation, I was interested to see how this mindset has changed. So, I talked with Associate Professor of Communications and Media Arts Brien McHugh. Professor McHugh enrolled at Marquette University in 1974 as a Theater Major and graduated in 1979 with a Broadcasting degree.
Professor McHugh: In my first semester there, I took the beginning theater class and I also had to take a lab, a dance lab. I was the only one who showed up in class wearing gym shorts rather than ballet stuff.
But then, an incident occurred that ended up changing his path.
Professor McHugh: […] I really sprained my ankle playing basketball and I couldn’t do the lab anymore about halfway through the semester so, I got out of it. […] But I wasn’t happy [about the major he chose], it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
He ended up talking to a classmate who was in the ballet class with him whom suggested that he try broadcasting. He switched over during his second semester.
Professor McHugh: The reason I chose theater is because I actually liked performing. I had done that stuff in high school and thought that I didn’t know what else to try so I thought I’d try theater. […] If you think of broadcasting back then it was radio and television. You were performing. It’s just with radio you’re performing to a microphone and with TV; you have all the cameras and lights.
Talking to Professor McHugh, I got the feeling that the pressure Julia and Irma came into college with seemed absent in his story. So, I asked him to what extent external pressures influenced him when considering declaring a Theater major.
Professor McHugh: That’s really one of the biggest differences that I see. Back then, there wasn’t that high expectation that everyone graduated high school and went to college. So, those of us that were lucky enough to go were given a little more latitude to explore majors and to be undecided for a longer time. […] Nowadays, the pressure is on to really pick that career you’re going to do for the rest of your life.
Unfortunately, this is the true for USF students.
According to Jeff Chiapello, the Director of Academic Advising here at USF, students must declare a major by the end of their sophomore year. This may seem fast but he has this reassuring advice:
Jeff Chiapello: My advice to a student who comes in undecided is to let them know it's OK. We have a set of general education courses all students need to take and you don't need to know what you want to do right away. Use the resources we have here at USF to help you make the best choice for you!
In talking to Julia, Irma and Brien McHugh they all echoed this advice.
Professor McHugh: I would counsel students to give themselves a break. You’re not going to end up doing what you think you’re going to end up doing anyways. So, don’t stress so much.
Julia: Don’t declare a major [right away]. Cause then, you’re starting off with all this coursework that you don’t even know if you want to do. […] Take all of your general education classes and take a couple classes that you think you might be interested in. If you’re not sure what you’re interested in, talk to your academic advisor because they can help you […]. Do a lot of self-reflection and maybe talk to people who you’re close to.
Irma: If you’re not sure of a major, don’t declare it. Before that, shadow people that have the career you think you want because ultimately that’s going to be you. […]
Times have changed indeed and the pressure to choose your future is prevalent. However, don’t let that scare you. College is not destiny but you have to start somewhere. Dip your toes in the water now but take your time reaching the shallow end…. the waters are deep and vast and there for your exploration.