According to a report from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics and a Gordon study, an estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as “undecided” and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation. But what is scary is that many students change their majors up to 3 times throughout their college careers! Most students cannot graduate within the "normal" 4 year time schedule- it usually takes the average student anywhere between 5-7 years to graduate- but now imagine the extra years (AND TUITION!) that must be added if one is to change their major a couple of times. I know of a student who is still trying to graduate, from undergraduate school, and it's eleven years later!!
If you google "steps to take to avoid changing majors" or something along those lines, you will be hard-pressed to find anything. In fact, I found just the opposite. I discovered "10 Signs You Should Change Your Major", "How Do You Know if it's Time to Change Majors?", and "Switching Majors" along with MANY other articles all spouting the same rhetoric. (Do a similar google search on how to avoid drop out and you will find the same thing!) Apparently changing majors and/or dropping out is just so common that it has become accepted as the "norm". Colleges are EXPECTING your students to change their majors and even encourage it...I mean, why not? A change in plans means extra college courses, more time on campus, and more money coming in.
Well, I refuse to buy into all of that and believe that your student can have a plan that they stick with, graduate with the perfect degree for them, in a reasonable amount of time, and with no student debt. Below are some steps you can take to make sure your student doesn't change majors once they enter college:
#1. First figure out the "WHY"- why are they going to college in the first place? Are they going because it's expected, or because their friends are going, or because they don't know what else to do? None of those are good reasons. It may be better to take a gap year or work for a while to clear their head and figure out the path they want to follow first. Ask questions. If your student has a clear cut path or plan or wants to follow a career which needs a college degree (or perhaps trade or tech school), then move on to step #2. If not, your student may want to take some Career Aptitude and Career Assessment Tests, look through some college catalogs, and perhaps do a little research on careers they may be interested in (check out my blog on Discovering Your Passions for more ideas).
#2. Make your student "own it"- what I mean by this is lay out all of their options and have your student make the final decision so that later on when they start complaining about it (which they will) you can always throw it back onto their shoulders by saying, "This was YOUR decision." I did this a lot with my child while he was growing up. I would lay out all his options, he would choose, and because it was his choice he knew that he would either have to follow through or suffer the consequences of his decision. For those who know our story, my son did NOT want to go to college, "waste" any more time in school than he had to, and wanted to get out to "live real life" ASAP. Well, the career he wanted to pursue needed a college degree so we sat him down and explained the various paths he could take: go directly into the work force (but perhaps not get into the career he wanted because he lacked the degree), go into the military and earn experience that way, go to a brick and mortar college (and perhaps spend more than 4 years and thousands of dollars in getting that degree), first go to community college to transfer in at a later date, or really "go out of the box" and combine the work he was already doing with earning college credits and get his degree in a very nontraditional manner (College Out of the Box style!). We went over pros and cons for each path and left the decision up to him, saying we would support him in whichever path he chose. As most of you know, he decided on the last one and was able to earn his accredited bachelor's degree by age 17 and follow the career path he had his heart set on since he was 5 years old and is loving life! But along the way, there were moments (when his workload was tougher or he was getting tired) when he would complain and say he didn't want to do this anymore. That was when I just put it back onto him saying this whole thing was HIS decision and we agreed that we would follow this path until completion. Usually that would make him take a step back, regroup, and remember his "WHY".
#3. Once your student knows what career path they want to follow, now they need to do some research on that before they "commit" to it. I have known many students who thought they really wanted to do something as a career, but then after finding out more about it or job shadowing someone for a week or so decided it wasn't for them. I also know MANY students who have gone through college getting a degree they thought they wanted, only to find out once in the workforce that they HATED that particular field and had to go BACK to college to get another degree. You don't want this to happen to your child, so a little bit of research could prevent a lot of heart ache later! As I speak to teens across the nation, I do a little experiment. I have everyone stand up. If they know what they want to major in, stay standing, everyone else sit down. For those standing, if they have done some research on their chosen career stay standing, everyone else sit down. (By this time half the class is sitting.) Next, stay standing if they have job shadowed or interned with someone in that field. (Most are sitting at this point.) Finally, have they sat down with someone in their chosen field and interviewed them? Asked them questions about the good and bad, what it takes to advance, the pay, the hours, what they like most or least about their career, etc...?At this time, either all are sitting or maybe only 1 or 2 are still standing. The few who are standing most likely will stick with their major, the rest will change their major AT LEAST once. It's very eye-opening! Do your research before you commit!
#4. Finally, have your plan mapped out. As many professionals say, if you don't write down your goals it's more than likely you won't hit them. There is something about writing things down that makes it somehow more concrete. But this is esp. important for your college plan. As I have noted in my seminars and blogs before, many colleges are making it harder for a student to graduate in four years by either offering classes every other semester, or making classes small so that they fill up quickly, or making it difficult to navigate the class scheduling. If one goes into college thinking that they'll just register for classes each semester without a plan, there is NO WAY they will graduate on time. You NEED to have your 4-year plan prepared ahead of time. So what I would suggest is to see what the requirements are for your major, sit down with the course catalog and "map out" your classes for the years you will be spending in college. This should only take a couple of hours or so, but could save you a TON of time later! Make sure that if a class you need is only offered once a year or every other semester that you get that one written in on your plan and that you put an asterisk by it to make sure you register for that class early if possible to make sure you get in. This also helps your student with their work load. They can see if they are overloading too much on classes one semester versus another. This way they can spread them out so they don't get overwhelmed (another reason many students drop out). Map out your plan!
Of course, if you follow these steps I cannot GUARANTEE that your student will never change his major, but if your student spent time figuring out his "Why", owning up to his decision and internalizing it for himself, doing some research, and mapping out a plan, there is a greater chance he won't. Not only are these steps great for students but they are helpful in any major life decisions one may make along the way. I know many adults who could use this advice as well!
For more information on College Out of the Box check out the website at www.collegeoutofthebox.com