Change your mindJustin Bouvier proclaims his plan with certainty and conviction. He is confident. He knows what he wants. He knows exactly how to get it.
“I’m going to teach math for three years then become a principal at a high school,” said the junior mathematics major at Castleton State College.
But Bouvier is in the minority.
Most college students aren’t so sure. They don’t know where they are going or how to get there. Even if they have an idea, often it changes. In fact, more than half of students switch majors at least once and many change more than one time while attending college, according to the National Research Center for College and University Admissions.
“If you can’t see something, it’s hard to plan it,” said Judith Carruthers, Career Development director at Castleton.
Carruthers, a self proclaimed ‘cheerleader,’ helps students make plans and achieve goals in academics, majors and careers.
“People come here and they’re all upset about changing their major. They’re nervous, they don’t know what to change it to or if they should,” Carruthers said. “It’s my job to say that’s fine. It’s good to find out what you don’t like.”
When students enter college, they major in fields they think they understand, Carruthers said. They major in something because it’s all they know, they don’t know what else is out there.
The best way to hurdle that obstacle: see what’s out there.
“Try something you never thought of,” Carruthers said. “Pick a course you don’t know anything about. Totally off the wall and open your eyes.”
Emily Kilduff, a junior and English literature major, began her college career in the education department. Education was for her, she thought, because she likes kids and had some teaching experience in high school.
After taking Inquiry one, an introductory education class, Kilduff decided the program wasn’t right for her.
“After spending time in the schools in Inquiry one, I realized I don’t want to do this every day of my life,” Kilduff said.
She learned what she didn’t like.
Justin Bouvier, the math major who’s got it all figured out, says experience is an essential part of deciding what programs to take.
“I’m an older student and have had many more years of experiences and knowing what I’ve been looking for,” he said.
Traditional students, who go to college right after high school, don’t have that.
“They flounder through the first year,” Bouvier said.
Charlotte Terhune, a sophomore and pre-nursing major, spent her freshman year in the art department. She painted. She sculpted. She sketched.
Then she changed her major.
“At the end of freshman year I was like, nope. Not going to happen.”
She chose art because it came easy to her. Her father is an art teacher in Florida and when faced with deciding what to major in, she followed in his footsteps. But the discarded alternatives, nursing and history, tugged at her.
“I have a personality that I need to help people,” she said. “If I see someone hurt I need to help them. I felt nursing would fit me better than art.”
With help from her advisor, she made the transition across campus to the science world where she is now studying anatomy. She feels good about the decision even if it was a difficult one to make.
“I was incredibly nervous. Art came easy to me, nursing and science don’t. There’s that possibility of failing,” she said.
She also tacked on a history minor to cover all her interests.
“There are too many options and combinations you could do,” she said. “If I could, I’d do it all.”
Go with your gut
Brette Tucker is graduating this May. She is proud to be graduating with a degree in Music Performance.
She wasn’t always so sure, though.
She spent two years as a music education major before taking the plunge and focused her efforts on performing rather than teaching.
“I realized, even though I would be a good teacher, my heart was in performance first,” Tucker said.
Tucker decided that working toward teaching wasn’t where she wanted to start. She could go back to teach later, but her primary goal was to perform.
“For me, changing majors was about making sure my future was heading in the right direction,” she said. “If you aren’t, you can spend a lot of time here making the wrong decision.”
Life experiences, taking “off the wall” classes and learning what you don’t like takes time.
“The hardest thing about changing my major was that I already wasted a semester,” Kilduff, the junior and English major said. “I didn’t want to waste more time.”
Only 36 percent of students graduate within four years, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Programs take longer than anticipated because students change majors, transfer or take lighter course loads.
For students contemplating switching their major, Lori Arner, CSC registrar, suggests using the ‘what if’ program evaluation. The program is online through the VSC portal. A student first selects a program they are considering and their information is applied to the new set of requirements.
The ‘what if’ program also helps students track their progress.
“You can avoid pitfalls,” Arner said. “It’s like a complicated recipe. It’s doable, but you need to put all the pieces together.