“One of the few rights America does not proclaim is the right to fail”. William Zinsser speaks shades truth when addressing the college student and the pressures imposed upon them. In our modern day and age, college students are mounted with problems: finance, respect, insecurity, and competition, are just a few. Modifications must be made in regards to relieving the high levels of stress students tend to inquire, opportunities to explore a variation of career types, and a general understanding from both teachers and students that the majority of freshmen have no clue what they want to do. It is for these reasons that I strongly lobby students not to decide on a major entering their first year of college. However, not everyone would agree.
It is ideal for students to compromise to a course and take the necessary steps in the completion and mastery of a particular profession. Because admission nowadays is exceedingly selective, it is important to know what you want in the beginning to keep you on track. “You don’t want to pay for college twice”, says Will McGuiness, editor of the Huffington Post. For students investing both their time and money into these institutions of higher learning, it seems practical to just get a degree that will pay the mortgage. According to the Georgetown University Center on Education, in 2012 college graduates faced an unemployment rate of 8.3, well above the national average of 7.7. Although these bold facts are intimidating enough to have every freshman running for the hills, they fail to add the human components of learning and growth that most instrumental in excelling through college. Now that we have considered the factors that edge students in rushing into a major, let’s explore the reasons to stay abstinent.
Giving a first year student the option of not having to make a career choice is a stress relief in and of itself. Unfortunately for college students, stress is nothing new; in fact, 37 percent of all college freshmen are above the average levels of stress and anxiety (Tamar Lewin, 1). These numbers should not be taken lightly, especially when shown that people under constant levels of stress live 10 years shorter than those who are not (“PSY Science”, 148). The pressures of achievement, acceptance, and competition are all intertwined with ones performance at a progressive level. Because tension in a stressful environment naturally creates a bigger learning curve, it is important to give these pupils breathing room with a year free of any grave decisions. Not only will this benefit the student’s health, but will show in test scores, communication, and most importantly learning. By eliminating the perceived need to commit to a major students are unsure of, will lead to a reduction of stress. Another reason for a first year hold out is the opportunity to explore.
A year of exploration through a variety of different courses is vital to a student’s growth. At 18, it is safe to say that we have not been properly exposed to the world and even our own abilities. So to make us pick a career that we might dedicate the rest of our professional lives to seems absurd. Students exploring a wide range of subjects learn new things and develop interests they may never have known they had. Whereas choosing a specific major right from the start binds them to a narrow path. Occupations students once thought they were destined for fade into the horizon as their true passions are discovered. Additionally, a student knowledgeable in polarizing fields is a well-rounded one more effective in the workforce. As William Zinsser points out, “I would employ graduates who have this range and curiosity rather than those who narrowly pursue safe subjects” (“College Pressures”, 2). Which leads me to my last reason, if not the most important, the overlooked fact that we just don’t know.
First year college students simply do not know what they want to be for the next 50 years of their life. The exception would be the hand full of students that have known their career path since the age of 5, leaving the rest of us in the dark with envy. The human brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, so deciding a career wouldn’t necessarily be a thoroughly calculated decision. Incidentally, most college students change their major an average of 3 or 4 times (“Off to college”, 18). Every semester councilors confront these timid, unfamiliar faces that stumble into their office and ask them for their major, while handing them a long list of credits needed for whatever choice they made. The blank stares the councilors receive from the students should be a clear enough indicator that these kids are as clueless as a dim light bulb and need help. Teachers and faculties need to emphasize the notion that it is okay not to know, that they have the right to fail. This leads me back to my hammering question at hand, what is the point of compromising to a major in freshman year?
Through much comparison, calculation, and critical thinking, I have concluded it only logical not to decide on a major being the new kid on the block. While it is time and money saving to make a commitment sooner than later, it is not practical in the long run. Stress is not necessary, can affect academic performance and even pose a long term health risk. An exploratory student is progressive one that reflects the importance of a year to sample different career opportunities. Finally, awareness that most freshmen students do not know what educational path to take leads to a better understanding support group in teachers and faculty. Students are the driving force of our future, and must be encouraged, not disillusioned. A year of free trial and error without the loom of hefty decisions can be the difference between a learning environment and a hostile one. One of my favorite quotes, from the United Negro Fund, that I believe should be displayed in every school is, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”.