Wednesday, December 09, 2015
But are there other approaches that work on the ground? If the student gets through orientation still without much idea of what she wants, has anyone found a productive way to help her figure it out?
What we recommend to first-year students at our research university is that if they are thinking, even vaguely, of possibly doing a science or engineering major, they should start in it. We'll still love them if they change their minds later, but it is a hell of a lot easier to switch majors away from engineering than towards engineering.
My husband did not pick his physics major until his sophomore year, and took six years to graduate. I picked mine as an entering freshman, despite not being very confident of my decision. I had to keep telling myself that if it looked like I was going to start failing classes, it was okay to withdraw from those classes, and okay to pick a different major. I didn't, and because I started the sequence my fist semester, I graduated in four years. That's how STEM majors go. That's what I tell those high school kids.
Institutionally, is there some way you can lower the barriers to switching majors? People are probably more likely to just pick one and give it a try if you tell them "it's okay, you can always change your mind later."
Ditto on what GSwoP said above, and that is (potentially) the best net gain from having meta majors. The reason is that the problem is math more than the science classes, because you can't take chemistry until you pass college algebra and you can't take biology (at most places) until you have chemistry and you can't take physics until you take calculus. There is a similar problem for business, by the way, but it is easier to build a summer-plus-2nd-year track through business calculus than it is to build one through three semesters of calculus if your next class is college algebra.
I'd be interested to know if MKS's husband got hung up because of math.
Our meta major is mainly targeted at math sequences and avoiding the wrong gen-ed classes (a problem for some liberal arts majors), although it still has flaws for the sciences. There are vast differences between "tech" majors, biological science majors, and the physical sciences.
BTW, we force students to pick a metamajor (and identify transfer school, but allow undecided for a transfer major) by their second semester, using a freshman "welcome to college" course to get them to do a career inventory, etc, as part of the process. What we don't do is tailor/link those classes to students who already have a particular metamajor or none at all.