Explore your options

John MuenzbergJohn Muenzberg

Column by John Muenzberg, Lecturer of philosophy

How many times has a fellow student asked you “What’s your major?”

It’s an easy icebreaker when meeting people around campus. How many times have you been asked “Why did you choose that major?”

It is a follow-up question that requires some reflection and information.

Unfortunately, it is also a question that many students have not thought about clearly.

You have probably heard that 50 percent of students change their major. It is an estimate, based on a number of studies. Studies also show that 20-40 percent of freshmen are undecided about what major to study.

From an advising perspective, this looks like a problem.

How can one work for a degree when one does not know what the degree will be?

Generally, the earlier students declare a major the more likely they will graduate in four years. It is understandable that parents and advisers might pressure you to decide as soon as possible.

Advisers and faculty also know that one problem with choosing a major is that freshmen are, to be blunt, not very good at it.

This is not a problem of indecision but of knowledge.

Few freshmen are aware of the broad range of majors available. One’s choice of major is naturally based on what one is familiar with. This means that majors are heavily weighted to popular careers such as nursing, business or education. They also often coincide with classes students took in high school.

As a philosophy instructor, I often have students interested in studying more philosophy after taking a course or two. Since few high schools teach philosophy, few students are exposed to the discipline. The truly unfortunate situation is that a number of the students who discover an interest in philosophy are already juniors or seniors.

Changing one’s major then will probably delay graduation.

With this in mind, many universities do not let students declare a major until sophomore year. In other words, every freshman is officially undeclared.

The idea is that the students can attend classes and major fairs, even just talk with other students about the variety of majors available.

One of Murray State’s responses to this dilemma is the University Studies curriculum.

As I argued in this column last fall, the University Studies program emphasizes critical and creative thinking skills along with the information students learn. These skills not only help graduates to be better in their careers, but they also help them to be more successful in many areas of life.

One other reason for this curriculum is to provide students with exposure to many disciplines. Without exposure to the discipline it is difficult to decide on a major. Of course we could require that students take one course in 42 different subjects, but that would be a waste of time. Instead, students can choose different disciplines to fulfill the skill areas. If you are curious about sociology, you can take a sociology course within the University Studies program. This is an important first step in making an informed decision about one’s major, rather than just picking a subject you took in high school.

Having a broad exposure to different disciplines is important to be an educated adult. It is also important to make decisions about what you want to study. Hopefully students will be exposed to new ideas through the University Studies program. We also hope you will be exposed to interesting areas as freshmen or sophomores, when you still have time to plan your course of study.