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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Perspective: Pressure to choose a major limits the true college experience

It is almost taboo to tell someone you have no idea what you’re majoring in — but that’s what college is for.

The three simple words “What’s your major?” follow college students from residence halls to classrooms to home. The question is the academic version of “What’s your star sign?” as if it conveys something essential to a student’s very identity and future. But only 27 percent of college graduates pursue a job related to their degree.

From my first week on campus, students abandoned first names and relied on majors to identify one another. It is almost taboo to tell someone you have no idea what you’re majoring in — but that’s what college is for.

My dream of an international affairs degree quickly dissipated when I realized how much college had to offer, but I found myself clinging to my high school choice of major much longer. As I confessed my doubts to friends, I realized I was in good company as they also had doubts about their major despite prior confidence.

Students are taught from their first day of college that their major defines them, which can pressure them into a premature choice that becomes increasingly difficult to change. Instead of restricting undergraduate experiences, students should look to widen their horizons in college.

The selection of a major to maximize job prospects is not reflected in surveys and studies. In 2010, sixty-two percent of college graduates in the workforce had a job that required a college degree, but only a quarter worked in a job that related to their college major. While students stress over the difference between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science, their future employers do not. It is possible to choose a major based on a passion developed in college without harming the potential for a career.

Although students are not expected to declare their major until the end of sophomore year at GW, there remains an overwhelming pressure for students to have a graduation plan from the start. As a result, the eagerness and excitement that comes with the starting stages of college is reduced to tunnel vision toward one’s diploma.

Advisory courses like the first-year experience ensure that first-years have a four-year plan ready but fail to acknowledge that college is not just a sprint toward a degree. These required assignments created by GW overlook the core purpose of an undergraduate education. They assume that first-years have a perfect idea of their major from the beginning — enough of one to choose their classes up until graduation.

Students deserve to be explorative while still successful. As important as a diploma is, it is equally important that an undergraduate education fosters an expansive experience.

Previously, the undergraduate years seemed more experimental. At schools like Columbia University, the “Core Curriculum” model was designed and implemented in the 20th century to expose undergraduates to a uniform foundation of basic subjects for the first two years before choosing a major. The assumption was that from this core students would attain a better understanding of their intellectual moorings.

While the purpose of GW’s General Educational Curriculum requirements provide students with a similarly diverse curriculum, students frequently return to courses that are familiar and safe when they should be looking for a change and a challenge. There is an opportunity for individualism and students should take advantage of it. For all they know, that contemporary dance class they had to take to fulfill their arts requirement may prove to have a lasting effect on their career choice.

Once a choice of major is made, students can find themselves in siloed course selections. As an undergraduate education breaks from the Common Core education, they also lose the sense of exploration and discovery that should come with an education at GW.

For stressed and often confused first-years, it seems crucial to label one’s academic pursuits. But for the many who don’t have a clear picture of their future, this pressure restricts one’s undergraduate experience. To break from the tethers and confines of a major, it’s time to redefine the undergraduate experience as an opportunity to branch out.

Next time you find yourself falling in the same rut of major requirements, it may be time to branch out and remember the meaning of an undergraduate degree. Play some GWeb roulette and take that modern dance class — you may just find your hidden talent.

Madie Turley is a first-year majoring in international affairs … for now.

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