Preparing for College

Must I choose a college major?

Question: Do I have to know what my major will be before I go to college this fall?

Believe it or not, most college freshmen really don't know what they want their major to be. Even if they have a particular major in mind, statistics show that today's freshman will change academic direction three to five times in a four-year program. In most college programs, a major doesn't have to be declared until the end of the sophomore year. Some programs can even wait until the beginning of the junior year.

Students who want to follow specialized technical programs, however, are better advised to commit earlier than the sophomore year. The reason for this is curriculum requirements. Take a program in electrical engineering, for example. At many universities, the school of engineering requires that an engineering major take more courses than the garden-variety liberal arts major. Because of this, the engineering majors have to follow a pre-described sequence of courses that has little or no slack.

You may have seen the phrase "five-year graduation rate." What that implies is that a surprising number of college students today take five years to graduate from a four-year program. The extra year can come from two main sources. First, if a student makes a major change in the junior year, for example, there may be a need to go longer to pick up the new major's required courses.

Another problem is the unavailability of required courses when the students need them. This happens sometimes when faculty go on sabbatical or enrollment numbers do not prove to be profitable to teach a course. This problem has become so acute that some major universities are offering a "four-year graduation guarantee." If you can't get all your courses in four years, the remainder will be paid for by the university.

Don't be concerned. You'll gravitate to your major of choice in plenty of time.