The language of Latin has different names for all of its conditionals. One of these is the “future more vivid.” Statements structured this way are used to express actions that happen sequentially and in a sure order. Conversely, the “future less vivid” conditionals convey an open possibility for a sequence of actions that may—or may not—occur. How interesting it is to think that a future of uncertainty and multiple options would be considered “less vivid” than a path of known conclusions. Yet certainly this way of thinking has seized the mindset of the current college generation, as the pressure to enter college with a set major grows heavier.
Typically, most schools do not make a student officially declare a major until the second semester of his or her sophomore year. This is perfectly fair. By that point, the student has had three semesters to adjust to college, explore different subjects, and figure out what he or she is interested in studying. The problem lies in the tacit demands of society to enter college and hit the ground running. One of the questions on the back of the PSAT, which students can take as young as their freshman year of high school, asks the student to check off his or her “intended major.” In addition, career aptitude tests attempt to map out jobs that would fit a person’s skill level even when that person is years away from waving at a college degree. To make matters worse, when applying to college, the Common Application cannot be submitted until the applicant clicks the box next to the major he or she is interested in, even if that box is labeled “undecided.”
The focus is ultimately on the final destination of a job instead of the joy in pursuing a subject of passion. Teachers, parents, colleges, and students themselves are focused on getting young adults into programs as quickly as possible. Gayle Ronan, a reporter for NBC News, writes about the importance of helping a child decide on a major as early on in his or her education as high school. She explains, “It is also key to helping them graduate in four years and move into their ‘real’ lives before they out-spend their college savings accounts” (Ronan). Whose job is it to say when “real” life begins? Why can’t one’s college years be a rich, full, interesting stage of life instead of a rite of passage necessary to trudge through? Maybe if the emphasis were on the priceless value of education rather than its monetary one, college would be considered “real” life, indeed!
Young American adults are struggling to decide their paths in life at time when life is just starting out. By looking closer at some data, it is easy to see where this panic to decide comes from. According to a New York Times article, “Retention rates for declared students are better, and they are more likely to graduate in four years.” (Simon). Plus, in a world where jobs are scarce and success is measured by career choice, mapping out the scary unknown before one’s very eyes can seem comforting and safe. The draw of taking classes that give information that will be used one day in a definite career is certainly enticing. However, is it better to have trained workers than educated critical thinkers? What separates the landscaper from the Wall Street executive if both are skilled laborers trained in a specific field? Not only can today’s young adults major, but they can minor, double-, or even triple-major, and concentrate in a variety of subjects, just to name a few options. The ultimate goal is to craft a schedule so limited and unambiguous that its only purpose will be to prepare a student to thrive in an exact field. The colleges and universities that once educated the whole person in the liberal arts are quickly becoming sophisticated schools of apprenticeship.
Perhaps there are a lucky handful of students who experience some sort of divine revelation early on in life and know exactly what their contribution to the world will be. The vast majority of American 18-year-olds, however, have little to no idea what vocation will satisfy them for the rest of their lives. According to a survey conducted at Pennsylvania State University, 80% of college freshmen feel unsure about their major, even if they have already declared one (Simon). Furthermore, half of all freshmen that enter declared will change their major, sometimes more than once, before officially settling into a course of study by sophomore year (Simon).
Some colleges have recognized the problem, and they are taking action to relieve the stigma behind the label of “undeclared.” Many colleges are launching “exploratory” programs, which allow first-year students to sample a wide variety of courses and studies to find what clicks with them. For example, the University of Florida offers three “exploratory tracks,” specifically in the sciences, humanities, and social studies. Undergraduates can take any one of these for their first few semesters before declaring a major (Simon). This method of introducing students to a variety of options certainly seems more effective than forcing a rushed decision on someone who really has no idea what to do with his or her life.
The liberal arts are not called “liberal” because of any left-wing tendencies. The word comes from the Latin verb “liberare,” which means “to free.” To educators across the country, this challenge must be issued: free the mind. Free it from its narrow-minded naiveté, from its sheltered bubble of early teenage life, from the singularity of the thought process that has dominated it since rational thinking began. Free the ability that lies in each human heart to discern right from wrong and to think logically. Free college students across the country from the idea that their lives have to be predetermined, that a job is more meaningful than their education.
Ronan, Gayle B. “College Freshmen Face Major Dilemma”. NBC News. NBC News, 29 Nov. 2005. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.
Simon, Cecilia Capuzzi. “Major Decisions.” New York Times. New York Times, 2 Nov. 2012. Web. 5 Oct. 2013.