Use School Breaks to Get a Clue
Today let’s talk about two seemingly disparate realities I regularly observe about student activity in and out of school: 1) the stress (and importance) of declaring a major and 2) “unspent” school breaks. And then I’ll dish you this handy tip, which should in a sense kill these two birds with one stone.
First, let’s address the topic of declaring a major. Perhaps no aspect of the college decision process causes as much angst as this one. It’s arguably far easier to choose where one wants to attend school than what one should do over the next four to six years there. Very, very few young students I know have any real clue what they’d ultimately like to study in college.
According to a semi-famous Penn State survey of their freshmen recently, 80% weren’t sure about their major. And according to Dr. Fritz Grupe, who has since established a website devoted to the decision, more than 50% of all college students change majors at least once.
This has financial consequences. Tempting as it may be to enter college “undeclared” or “exploratory,” many studies of student behavior have found that it pays off for students to pursue a major, any major, early on in the process. Students who do so spend less money and have far greater graduation success than those stuck in indecision mode. In fact, the problems experienced and caused by the undeclared student have become evident enough for the Tennessee Board of Regents to consider requiring freshmen to declare a major as part of that state’s educational policy and for individual schools everywhere to not allow students to take classes without first picking a more focused degree track.
Fine. But how in the world does a student declare a major at a college with degree options in the double or triple digits (the University of Michigan, for instance, offers nearly 250) when to this point he’s been fed information on but a handful of high school subjects?
The second topic at hand: high school and college students get a fair number of relatively large breaks throughout the year, with most schools giving time off of a week or more at least three times. During these breaks students typically and understandably want very little to do with academia and the short gaps don’t readily allow for employment.
However, especially in regards to the fall and spring breaks, students don’t have a reputation for doing anything else worthwhile either. Students everywhere while away their days “achieving” rest, recreation, and particularly in the case of spring break, infamous hedonism. Is there a better use for these short gaps of free time?
By now the implication is probably fairly obvious. Let’s combine these two “problems” of school to cancel each other out. Particularly, use your break time from school as an opportunity to job shadow, which will then perhaps clue you in as to whether or not this or that subject is worthy of your educational focus. In anticipation of a scheduled break make a few calls and see if someone working in a field similar to an area of potential academic interest wouldn’t agree to an interview, show you around, and in the best of cases, provide much needed clarity and direction. A mere day of shadowing can yield valuable (but free) insights a semester of classes may never provide.
It might amaze you to realize how readily such opportunities present themselves. Most working adults, themselves once stuck with college and career decisions, will gladly at the very least go to coffee with an inquisitive student. In many other cases students can get direct exposure to an integrated job experience. I and others I know have used the break to sit beside a newspaper editor working on an investigative report, ride along on patrol with the police, walk the halls of a hospital with nurse, teach a class of sixth graders, conduct lab work, attend a meeting of bankers to deliberate the financing of a project, … and in the process have gotten a much better clue as to whether or not this subject/career path/major is the proper path to pursue.