Killing Freshman Year

Now we are trying to corral students into declaring majors before they even arrive on campus.

One of the best things about the US higher education is the freshman year where you get to explore different things to figure out what you really like. How are students supposed to know what major they want while they are still in high school? They don’t even know that some majors exist. We have kids from remote rural areas, most our students are first-generation college. How are they supposed to know what a major even is or how to pick one?

I hate this. And no, I’m not opposed to everything new. Just the dumb stuff.

16 thoughts on “Killing Freshman Year”

  1. Thanks for saying this, Clarissa. I couldn’t agree more. The norm at my uni is that the majority of students already know their major when they begin their freshman year or that they declare during their freshman year, probably so they can get in the required prereqs before it’s too late or so they can feel part of a smaller community of learners ASAP (to help w/ retention). I’m probably one of the very few people who think expecting incoming freshmen to know their major is ridiculous. It’s like I’m against “best practices” in higher ed, or against growing the major or increasing student retention.


    1. I’m glad to find somebody in the same boat. 🙂 I’m not an antiquated fuddy-duddy who’s again all innovation. But this is really not a great idea. Our students don’t graduate in 4 years and don’t try to. Why is that a problem? We don’t have the same type of student as a $90K per year private college. So what? Let’s serve the students we have. And this isn’t helping.


    2. I went to a large public university precisely so I would not have to be forced into some little learning community. They kept inviting us to join one such, but it was not required. Had it been, I would have left. So there, the h— with retention!


      1. I’m glad so many people are agreeing.

        We have these preview events that I do every year. We meet incoming students and tell them about our programs. I love it because it’s a chance to get future students to think about all the things they might fight interesting.

        So this year I went (on Monday) expecting it to be the usual great event. But it was horrible. Students were told to “huddle with their majors.” They would form these impenetrable circles and science or engineering students, for instance, would be completely walled off from the Humanities or each other. I never got to talk to anybody who did anything but languages. It defeated the whole purpose!

        Sorry for the rant. This is bugging me. We have something good here and we are dismantling it.


  2. This is how it’s done in India and it’s a very bad idea. High-schoolers have no idea about majors and end up in professions they don’t really like. It’s also very difficult to switch majors in India. I believe it is easier in the US, which is good.

    If they do this, they are going to raise a generation of very unhappy professionals.


  3. This trend is the product of decontextualized number crunching. Students who know their major their first year do tend to do better and graduate faster. So some idiot decides that making every student declare a major right away will make everyone do better and graduate faster. What they miss is that those fast graduating students are the ones who are well prepared and know what they want. Forcing the unprepared and undecided to choose isn’t going to make them into different people. I have seen several versions of this play out on my campus and the number crunchers know all of the numbers but never actually talk to any students.


    1. “Forcing the unprepared and undecided to choose isn’t going to make them into different people”

      This is the flip side of fluidity – people are assumed to be featureless widgets who can be filled with the appropriate policy and/or who will fill out whatever policy they are poured into.

      The personal branding that the young are engaged in is an attempt to escape the widget pile, or in more up-to-date (4chan) to avoid being NPC’s (non-playable characters).


  4. We are redesigning our program here, and I got a fair bit of pushback when i insisted that we couldn’t expect students to start any of the sequences until spring of sophomore year because they needed freshman year to explore and figure out what they want.


  5. I do not even understand what you are talking about since in Israel, like in FSU or Russia now I suppose, potential students apply to be accepted to study in a specific faculty for a degree X. And then are either accepted or not. Nobody just starts studying at university in general, so I am unsure how it works at your place. Is it like another year of high school with students being let to take general introductory courses in various departments and then applying for degree X?

    Of course, in Israel people arrive after IDF service and are older.


  6. I took three years to figure out that my major wasn’t for me. I was well informed, and I thought that was what I wanted. In some majors, students are advised to start right away, so they can get through classes that are only offered once a year. This was the case in my major.

    I didn’t figure out what I really wanted to do until I was taking classes at a community college to help stave off another depressive episode. I got my AS at 25. Now I’m taking a year or so working in a related field so I can figure out what exactly comes next.

    The cost is a huge concern for a lot of people. I have almost 20k in debt from three years at a state school from which I dropped out (it was about 20k per year, so that’s really just a fraction of it). I got really lucky when I came home and my parents offered to pay for a good portion of my community college tuition. Otherwise, I probably would have languished in a major depressive episode for much longer, with no motivation to get a job or leave the house or do anything. There are other people who just don’t have the resources to spend years and years figuring out what they want to do.


    1. Absolutely! And I see these students all the time. You are absolutely spot on because you know that it takes time to figure it out. It took time for every professionally successful person I know. People don’t need to be made to feel like something is wrong with them if they can’t decide instantly. This won’t help anybody.


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