All Posts Tagged With: "switching majors"
And why they may want to reconsider
Today, the New York Times suggested that President Obama’s goal of training 10,000 more engineers per year, plus 100,000 more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teachers annually is unlikely to be reached.
For decades, the U.S. has been trying to up its output of STEM students. But the percentage of all students earning Bachelor of Engineering degrees has actually fallen from nearly 10 per cent of the total in the mid-1980s to 5.4 per cent in 2009-10. Computer engineering hit peaks of 4.3 per cent of the totals in 1984 and 2004, but has fallen again to 2.4 per cent in 2009-10. It’s a similar story in other STEM fields too, like biology. As more people are educated, it seems fewer are choosing STEM.
Don’t struggle through four years of dissatisfaction
My last post, which suggested choosing a major based on passion rather than career considerations, drew some interesting feedback. The comment essentially suggested that it is better to be unhappily employed than to have studied something you love and risk unemployment. “We do not need more liberal arts graduates that are unemployed and underemployed because they took the bait of ‘study what you love,’” said the commenter.
While I surely concede that employment is generally necessary for a stable and happy life (although Thoreau wouldn’t likely agree), the idea of studying something you don’t enjoy only to get a job that you are no more likely to enjoy still strikes me as a frightening sacrifice to have to make. Having been reunited with several old friends over the Christmas break, I’ve noticed a very consistent trend of dissatisfaction with their courses of study and with university in general. As one friend put it, “I worked so hard in high school to get good marks and win scholarships so that I could go to university, only to get here and realize that I am no better of a person for having accomplished it.” I think this comment illustrates very well the problem of pursuing a goal because you think it’s practical or because you think you’re expected to, without coming to the conclusion that you ought to because you want to, independently of external influence.
Two of my friends are taking a year off from university altogether, to pursue activities they actually love and to discover what makes them happy. I have no doubt that once they answer this important question, they will return to university, study what they love, and translate the knowledge, skills, and passion (this is the important part) into a fulfilling career. Other friends (and I) are staying in university but are changing their course of study altogether. The qualities that I think are essential to a successful career are not developed by struggling through four years of stress and dissatisfaction. Not only does studying something you love facilitate a better GPA, but it allows for innovation, creativity, thinking and exploring beyond the beaten path. Surely these are the qualities that foster a truly successful career.
Left unaddressed, the quarter-life crisis I am witnessing among my peers – characterized by questioning the meaning of previously held beliefs and goals and disappointment with a major life change – will yield nothing more than another crisis, of mid-life this time, 20 years down the road. A middle-aged corporate lawyer I know helped shed some light on the crux of the issue: “Find something you love,” he said. “If you can’t, go to law school.” Discovering what it is you love is certainly no easy task, but to ignore it altogether in favor of pursuing a career is ultimately dangerous. The discovery will inevitably come eventually, so by actively pursuing the question and using the search as a lens through which to view the rest of your life ensures that the answer doesn’t come too late: once you’ve already spent many years and many thousands of dollars pursuing something only to realize you don’t actually enjoy it, making the switch will be much harder than getting it right in the first place. To put effort into exploring your self and your passions before settling on a job-focused university career is thus to avoid suffering later.
Failing essays or assignments already? How to deal with a mid-term grade crisis
Sarah had a slow start to her fall semester at UBC. She moved into a new apartment at the beginning of October, was waitressing part-time, and her boyfriend moved back to Vancouver and was taking up more of her time than usual.
But Sarah is a good student and is only taking three courses this semester instead of her usual five, so she was sure she could handle it. Then, in late October she got back the mark for her first assignment for her 400-level math class: she had failed. It came as a surprise to her. “I suspected that I may have done poorly,” Sarah says. “But I spent a lot of time on the assignment so I thought I’d at least pass.”
Now the semester is moving on and the workload in her courses has turned out to be enormous, and Sarah’s not sure if she can pull it together to pass her math class. What’s a girl to do?
Meghan Houghton, the Associate Vice-Provost for Student Success and Learning Support Services at the University of Calgary says that mid-semester grade crises are very common, particularly among first year students, who haven’t necessarily adjusted to the higher expectations of university.
“We know there is a natural transition period for students,” she says. “Their ‘A game’ from high school is requiring some refinement and polishing in order for that to be an ‘A game’ for university.”
If you find yourself in this situation, you should first seek out the learning support services offered by their school and refine their study skills. UBC, for example, offers writing tutorials, peer academic coaching, help hiring a tutor and piles of online academic resources, among other programs.
Another common cause of bad grades for first-years, Houghton says, is a lack of interest in what they’re studying. “Low grades on the first round of exams may be reflective of low motivation to study whatever it is they’ve chosen to study.”
Excelling is difficult if you don’t like what you’re studying. So, your bad grades could be a sign that you’re pursuing the wrong degree, and if that’s the case, you should make a change sooner rather than later. Make an appointment with an academic advisor at your school and they’ll talk you through what program is best for you.
Are you a physics major who dreads going to math class? Maybe it’s time to reconsider your career plans
So, you’re halfway through a four-year undergraduate program and you decide, for one reason or another, that you’ve made a mistake: you’re getting the wrong degree.
Maybe you keep flunking classes and you’re starting to suspect that you’re terrible at math and you’re going to be a lousy physicist. Maybe you realize that you’re scared of blood and embarrassed by naked people, so a career in medicine isn’t for you. Or maybe you’ve just found another subject that suits you better.
Whatever your reason, you’ve just put all of that time, energy and money into passing the prerequisites for a program you don’t want to complete and you’re halfway to getting a degree you don’t want to get.
What should you do?
Changing your mind about your major isn’t always a bad thing, particularly if it happens early in your degree. University, after all, is an opportunity to explore and to discover what you’re interested in.
The classic example, says Janet Sheppard, a counselor at the University of Victoria, is undergraduates who change their minds about going into medicine. “Science professors will joke sometimes that everybody in their biology 100 class is a pre-med student,” she chuckles. “But by the end of the year, things are starting to change.”
In your first few years of university, you’re exposed to a much broader world of learning than what you experienced in high school. There are whole fields of learning you probably never knew existed. Other subjects turn out to be very different than the little taste of them you had in high school — so it’s natural that your plans might change.
Sheppard advises students to keep an open mind, take a wide variety of courses and get involved in campus life. Exposing yourself to the broadest experience possible — both in class and through clubs, volunteer work and other activities — will help you discover what you are interested in.
“Students need to pay attention to the courses they actually look forward to going to, the ones where they actually enjoy the reading,” Sheppard says. You should also talk to people who have the degree you’re thinking about getting, and research the kind of career you’re setting yourself up for.
If you’re still uncertain about what to major in, then “decide not to decide,” says Sheppard. “Give yourself another semester or two to explore.” Staying in school for an extra couple of semesters is not the end of the world; loads of students are doing it. “The reality is most students take more than four years to do a four-year degree.”
The further you get into your studies and the more time you’ve invested in a program, the more difficult it can be to switch. Some changes can be relatively painless, because of the large amount of overlap in prerequisites — for example, changing from psychology to sociology. Transitioning from engineering to sociology, however, could add semesters to your degree and thousands of dollars to your student loan.