Yippee! You’re going to COLLEGE!
You’re probably getting hours and hours of sleep because you don’t spend any time at all mulling over all the new, unknown, big, scary things that come bundled up in that word ‘college.’ No, you haven’t started thinking about your future or your career or what all that means for your next four years. You haven’t started thinking about leaving home (if you are), either, or leaving your friends. You’re dandy. You’re just great. You are so excited. Genuinely amped. Ready to go. You feel like you just want to give everyone high fives.
Except, that’s not true at all. That’s actually laughable.
I know, you know, we all know that you are also (and I am definitely understating this): scared out of your wits. You’ve got the heebie-jeebies—those annoying willies. Your stomach is essentially a butterfly conservatory. You spend a lot of your free time exclaiming things like: “WHAT IS GOING ON?” Or… “HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO WHEN I GROW UP?” But mostly… “AHHHHHH.”
Guess what? You’re normal.
This is normal.
College is a huge adjustment. Somehow, though, all of us college-goers come out alive, smiling, and never wanting to leave. So be soothed. This will be the best time of your life.
Now, I know my words of wisdom won’t actually be heeded at the moment, so I won’t keep spouting nostalgic, reflective, awesome statements about college.
What I will do is give you some tips on how to gain appropriate perspective on your undergraduate education. We’re going to talk about (dun dun dunnnn…): YOUR MAJOR.
Hear me when I say: YOU WANT TO READ THIS.
It’s okay to change it. Multiple times.
Some of you know exactly what you want to study, maybe what career path you want to go down. You’re pretty sure you’ve got it all figured out. If you’re nodding your head right now, this piece of wisdom is for you: you may be surprised.
Some of you will keep on that initial path. You’ll start taking classes in your particular major, you’ll enjoy it, you’ll sit in the front row, hang out with your professors in office hours, and you’ll just keep on keepin’ on until you graduate.
Some of you, though, will find that you don’t actually like what you thought you would. You’re bored, you’re confused, you’re sleeping (and snoring) in class, and you just aren’t that into it. For you guys, and for those who start off college undeclared, I implore you to feel comfortable and at ease trying new things until something fits. You do it when you shop, you can do it when you study. You wouldn’t buy an extremely expensive outfit without trying it on first, would you? So why buy an education (which is, you know, sort of pricey) without trying some stuff out first? Think about it.
Some of you might be worried about what “other people” will think. I want to tell you that no one will judge you if you change it up a bit. They will actually praise you for caring about the education you are getting (who’s the cool kid on campus now?). As long as you monitor your units, requirements, etc. throughout your college career, you should have no problem. Have no fear, you are not alone! Counselors can help you with this process, too!
It doesn’t define your career.
Oh my goodness, what did she just say? THAT IS BLASPHEMOUS!
I have a lot of friends who want to be doctors. They’ve taken their pre-requisites for medical school, sure, but do you know how many of them are actually majoring in things like physiological sciences, biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, etc.? Practically none. Many have picked majors like history and English. The same goes for some of my friends who chose to go to law school.
Your major matters because hopefully it reflects your interests. Hopefully, you are studying something you really want to be studying. That may or may not lead to a career in that field. You may even (like my aspiring-doctor-buds) get the chance to study two subjects (Wow!). I changed my major three times (almost four…no shame), am currently studying psychology, and don’t intend to be a psychologist. Nuts, right? Your options are endless.
The main point is…
Don’t let yourself be scared by the constricting appearance of a word like ‘major.’ It’s not going to constrict you unless you want it to and you let it. With enough determination you can always pull strings here and there and maneuver stealthily through your undergraduate experience to create whatever experience you want. Honestly. Just look at college as a time to figure out what really makes you tick- what you really want to spend time learning about. Maybe you will be inspired to continue that study later on in life, and maybe you won’t. There’s nothing wrong with either of these situations.
So take the leap, step into the unknown, jump into the ocean, let your spirit fly!
(That got excessive fairly quickly…my bad.)
Point is: try new things, explore a little bit. You’ll be better than fine.
Okay, okay… I pinky promise.
My 12-year-old son began his first semester in junior high this year. In July, all of us parents were rounded up for a three-hour information seminar. We visited each of the “Pre-AP” teachers’ rooms, a total of seven different potential course offerings. In every session, the message was the same: you enrolled your kid in ALL Pre-AP classes if your child isn’t a complete dummy. Pre-AP, it was (sometimes not) patiently explained, was necessary for your child so that he or she could take AP courses in high school, and then be eligible to skip introductory courses in college. The point, apparently, was to save us a little money and to (it was implied) feel a bit superior about our offspring.
The same teachers who teach Pre-AP classes also teach regular courses. Although our “information seminar” was supposed to tell us the difference between the two types of classes, virtually none of the teachers even mentioned the regular classes. The Pre-AP was pushed so hard it made a parent feel like admitting your kid was as on par intellectually with the Honey Boo Boo clan for simply asking about the differences.
As the evening droned on and on, I began to wonder: Whatever happened to teaching students at the actual level they are at, intellectually, emotionally, and socially? I wondered too, as a college professor myself, if AP is pushed so heavily, why is it that I find my freshmen so unprepared for the rigors of a college course? This week, the Atlantic published an article by John Tierney, a retired professor and high school AP teacher. Like me, Tierney wondered the same thing.
So why this huge push into AP? Probably the biggest reason is that the College Board, which sets the standards and publishes the AP curriculum, earns over half of its earnings from AP courses. Which might be all right with everyone if high schools truly were turning out enhanced and advanced learners. However, in Tierney’s experience, and my own, they are not doing any such thing.
Tierney investigated the many reasons for the failures of the AP programs, and some confusion about their promises. For example, while AP courses in high school may let a college freshman “opt out” of an introductory course, they often do not receive actual “college credit” for AP classes as expected. And when they do get to skip an intro class, many students find that their AP classes in high school do not remotely resemble the challenges of a true college class, and many wish they HAD taken the regular introductory college course.
Another valid argument is Tierney’s opposition to “open enrollment” for AP classes. This was the case in my son’s new school. There was no merit base. No one was asked to join because of high scores in elementary school or a teacher’s recommendation. What we were basically told is that Pre-AP was “sink or swim.” Tierney argues that, “two thirds of the students taking my class each year did not belong there. And they dragged down the course for the students who did.”
And what of the kids who fail to swim? It’s pretty grim, according to Tierney. He says that those classes get ever more full as the years wear on and some kids just can’t hack it, but they are not given the strongest teachers. Those teachers, of course, are reserved for the AP program. A lot of these non-swimmers are minorities, who will now face even more obstacles to higher education.
Finally, and reinforcing what I have already seen in my own home, the push to cover so much material so fast leads to “rigid stultification — a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry.” No wonder when I took my Freshmen out on a sunny day and we all did nothing but read Thoreau out loud to one another, they all looked stunned… then they slowly began to relax, smile, and enjoy the pleasures of learning. Sadly, high school teachers are not able to take their students down interesting paths of learning. After all… there’s a test coming up.