Why College Sophomores Panic
"My daughter is a college sophomore and needs to sign
up for next year's classes by the end of this month. She also
needs to declare a major, but she has bounced from wanting
to be an astronaut to film study to architecture. Can you
help?" This type of plea from a concerned parent is not
uncommon. This is the time of the Sophomore Panic.
Most colleges and universities encourage new students to
explore their interests by taking a variety of classes. That
exploration is great if it is a part of a plan to make a decision
about educational and career goals. Without a plan the sheer
number of undergraduate majors can be overwhelming to explore.
For example, there are 56 options at Dartmouth College, 85
at DePaul University, and 150 at the University of Illinois.
Too often students use "undeclared" as way to defer
creating a plan and making a decision.
An academic major is a graduation requirement at most colleges
and universities. Typically declared by the end of sophomore
year, a major consists of a series of required and elective
courses necessary to achieve a degree in a particular field.
These related and often sequential courses are building blocks
for internships in the field and career paths. Some students
need to begin taking courses in their major during their first
year of college in order to fulfill prerequisites for later
courses in the sequence and graduate in four years. And even
though a student is enrolled in a university, they may not
be eligible for admission into different schools or departments
where there is a lot of competition for a finite number of
spots. A student transferring to another university may also
lose credits because they are not recognized courses in the
No parent likes to get that frantic phone call from their
college student and feel helpless. If your student is in the
heat of the moment, what are four tips you might offer your
child to avoid Sophomore Panic?
1. First of all, keep calm and investigate your options.
Even though students may be required to register for fall
semester classes in the preceding February or March, there
is always a period of time when classes may be dropped and
added without having to pay a late registration fee or forfeit
any paid tuition and fees. This flexibility can extend until
the first week or two after the semester begins. Check out
specific policies and dates in effect on your campus in the
college catalog or with the Registrar's Office or its web
2. Register for classes that complete your Gen Ed requirements.
In order to provide students with a broad exposure to many
disciplines, and not just specialized courses in their major
field, colleges require a certain number of core courses referred
to as General Education requirements. Liberal arts courses
in the humanities, languages, and natural, social and behavioral
sciences give students practice in critical and analytical
thinking, research and writing. To buy time to decide on a
major, take classes to finish your Gen Eds.
Keep in mind, however, that this strategy works best early
in your college career, as some majors may have different
Gen Ed requirements. For example, a bachelor of science degree
may require two lab sciences whereas a bachelor of arts may
require only one.
3. Make the choice of a major and a career direction a
It is never too late. The secret is backwards planning - pick
the career direction first, then the major. Then the plan
falls into place more quickly.
Students can participate in a comprehensive career assessment
that includes aptitudes, interests, values and personality.
Once careers are identified that are a good fit for the individual,
exploration activities like informational
interviewing and job shadowing can be efficient and focused.
After gathering this information, students can evaluate their
options, make their decision, and put a plan into place
for achieving their exciting goal. This technique is known
While some careers require a specific major, like nursing,
other careers can be entered via several different, but career-related,
majors. An example might be an entry-level marketing position
for which a marketing, advertising, business or mass communications
major may all be considered good academic preparation. Students
who know their career goal can select among those majors the
one that they feel best prepares them for entry into that
field. Remember, college is not a career choice.
4. Call in an expert.
Tuition doesn't just buy students the ability to take courses;
it gives them access to a range of support services at their
school. The career services center, faculty advisors, internship
and service learning coordinators, career or major fairs,
leadership opportunities, and student organizations can assist
with career exploration activities and decision-making help.
Families can also seek out career services providers that
specialize in working with students. A comprehensive career
assessment, with results interpreted by a credential career
professional, can provide clarity for a student more quickly
and illuminate the complex process of career decision-making.
© Copyright 2008, Career Vision. Article may be reprinted