Justin Peligri: With new GW plan, plenty of chances to switch majors

A recent study shows that nearly a third of incoming college students choose a major that they describe as a “poor” fit. What should students know about how to decide what to study?

We would scoff at anyone who made a decision about a political candidates based on their hairstyles. Some people pick college basketball teams based on their mascots, but that usually doesn’t turn out well.

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Justin Peligri

That’s because common sense tells us that making superficial snap judgments without substantive thought and evidence is ill-informed and often inaccurate.

The same mantra should apply to college majors. You probably shouldn’t form an opinion on a particular course of study unless you’ve sat through some lectures and rented a few textbooks.

That’s why I was confused to see that, according to a study of nearly 2.1 million high school graduates, nearly one-third of them said they had selected a major that they described as a “poor” fit.

The respondents in the study – which was released last month by the same nonprofit that administers the ACT – were high school graduates when they filled out the survey.

But incoming students who might be unsure of their choice in major shouldn’t worry: There’s ample opportunity to switch. The good news is that at GW, transferring majors and picking new courses to study will soon be easier than ever. A significant part of the 10-year strategic plan, finalized in May, is a University-wide effort to make it easier to switch your major.

Prospective students will not apply to individual colleges like the GW School of Business or the Elliott School of International Affairs, but join GW as a whole. They can choose majors – and switch them if they so choose – once they get here.

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Students should embrace this new model. College students shouldn’t see mid-journey changes as failures.

Students who spend college focusing on subjects they like tend to do better in classes, said Steve Kappler, the ACT’s assistant vice president for career and college readiness.

So here’s my advice: Freshmen and newly accepted students, dive into higher education head first. Spend a semester or so taking classes in varied disciplines across GW’s colleges.

But as the spring semester rapidly approaches, it’s time to find a clearer focus. If you’re not sure what you want your diploma to look like on Commencement day, pick something. Anything.

If you spend months upon months dabbling, you might check off some general education requirements. But if you don’t settle down on a specific subject, you won’t get any closer to graduating.

For some students, picking a major without much knowledge beforehand isn’t always successful on the first go around. Even the most confident, career-oriented students could have a change of heart and elect to switch their course of study.

But that’s normal. About 50 percent of students change their major over the course of their college career, according to the Princeton Review.

In higher education, change is the norm – it’s not something to fear.

And 50 percent of humanities applicants got accepted into medical school in 2012 compared to only 42 percent of those who majored in the biological sciences. For students majoring in English, learning to become a doctor might be a stark change of pace.

But this point can be applied to incoming undergraduates: There’s no shame in deviating from the initial plan – as long as it is done with ample time to get through the requirements.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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