Sky Singer: Students need more ways to explore subjects, majors

Now that syllabus week is behind us, the reality of the academic year has set in, and anxiety about settling our schedules has washed over some. Students, especially freshmen, may feel unsure about what exactly they want to study and pursue over their years as undergraduates.

I understand the stress about what to study and how to spend time in college, and I wish I had dealt with that stress differently. Before college, I always thought I would study political science and work in something government related once I graduated. When I was a freshman, I immediately jumped into taking G-PAC courses and introductory courses for a political science major. Now as I consider my future and reflect on my time at GW, I wish I had taken more time to explore different majors and schools.

Officials should find ways encourage students — especially those in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences — to take time to test out a wide range of subjects outside the constraints of the G-PAC system. Students should feel liberated by the opportunity to explore subjects and potential career paths they never had the chance to contemplate in high school. They should not be restricted and pressured to immediately start counting credits and mapping out their classes for future semesters.

A new report published by the Education Advisory Board found that students who switched majors had slightly higher graduation rates than those who declared majors immediately when they started college, and it found that students who took a while to declare majors still graduated on time, usually. Although every college and university has its own system for students to earn credits, the findings suggests that switching majors does not negatively impact students’ abilities to graduate within four years. The reality of this conclusion does not carry much weight if students don’t feel like it is possible for them to seriously consider other academic paths.

It is a university’s responsibility to help students navigate the academic system. I can say from my own experience that I was not informed about alternative class choices or encouraged to try new things. A student body as motivated and academically driven as GW’s can sometimes make undeclared students feel the need to pick a major immediately and establish a four-year plan. Colleges, GW included, should help create learning environments that embrace curiosity, exploration and discovery.

CCAS implemented the G-PAC system for students to learn skills and take classes in the liberal arts. These are important skills for students to acquire, but the system doesn’t allow for students to try something new just for the sake of trying something new. A person who is undeclared in CCAS may feel hesitant to try an introductory computer science or accounting course because it does not count toward G-PAC requirements.

The courses I had to take for my general course requirements seemed like tougher, more focused versions of classes I took in high school. But they didn’t expose me to other subjects I could pursue. Having the opportunity to try classes in different schools at GW might help students realize they want to switch out of Columbian all together.

Students do have room in their schedules for fall through courses that do not count as credits toward their degrees. Advisers and professors should remind students to take advantage of those courses, especially at the beginning of their four years.

Georgia State University offers “metamajors,” which are clusters of classes related to one another. This system allows students to discover what they like while following a structured path toward a degree. If students want to switch from accounting to management, all their credits will transfer because they fall under the same business category. “Metamajors” allow for experimentation within broad categories of study. The school’s effort to accommodate students should be an example to other higher education institutions. Universities like GW should be encouraging students to venture into different areas of studies by establishing credit systems like Georgia State offers.

Allowing students to find subjects that interest them at the collegiate level will make them more invested in their majors. G-PAC should incorporate more flexibility in requirements and work with other schools to allow students to venture outside of their comfort zones. Instead of focusing on enhancing skills, G-PAC should give students a glimpse into potential academic paths. GW needs to give students more freedom to open their minds to new possibilities they perhaps never considered or knew existed.

Sky Singer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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