The pressure to be undecided at a liberal arts university

| Staff Writer

Not too long ago, young people went to college to become more educated, plain and simple. That goal hasn’t changed, but the purpose of this education has morphed over time. Before, students studied in a particular field so that they would be ready for a career in that field. Now, students go to college hoping to figure out what they want to do.

This transition was a necessary one. People realized that most 18-year-olds aren’t equipped to live on their own, much less decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Thus began the trend of a liberal arts education.

The College of Arts & Sciences takes immense pride in its liberal arts program. Students are required to take a certain number of humanities, social sciences, natural science and mathematics and cultural diversity or language courses. All together, these requirements comprise one-third of the courses we take during our time here.

This program is designed perfectly for the student who isn’t quite sure what she wants to do next in her life. However, it’s not beneficial to the student who knows exactly what she wants to study and is ready for the next big step.

As someone who has always known what she wants to do next, I found that there isn’t just academic pressure to be undecided, but social pressure as well. Often, I’ve heard professors and administrators comfort young students with, “It’s perfectly fine to be undecided,” which makes it seem as if the norm is students who have decided. Yet I have not found that to be true in my experience. If I tell a professor or student that I know what I’m majoring and minoring in—that I’ve already declared and that I know what I want to do after college—I am met with “Really?” At the start of school, I was discouraged from declaring my major because I “have plenty of time to decide.” It may be true that it is more common to be undecided, but it is starting to seem like it’s more acceptable as well.

Being surrounded by people who enjoy their options as they work toward finding their major and by the pressure to test out a few subjects first before deciding can be confusing. It’s caused me to question, “Is this really what I want to do? Did I make my decision too early? Should I shop around more?” I believe it is always good to question who we are and what we are doing, but when it stems from social pressure and only results in time wasted, there is an issue.

Perhaps the liberal arts education should be optional. We should learn to respect that some people don’t need to take their time in college to uncover their passions and shouldn’t automatically assume that all underclassmen are unsure of what to study. Some just want to move on to the next big step, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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