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Picking under pressure: the major conundrum

As of 2023, Ohio University offers undergraduates over 250 programs of study. The sheer number of opportunities can be overwhelming for incoming freshmen, who have only just entered adulthood. This reason, among others, may be why so many students start off undecided, and why so many students switch their majors. According to OU’s website, 18% of students are undecided. 

Many college-bound seniors are subjected to a repetitive mantra regarding securing their economic future. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, a sustainable salary is at the forefront of students’ minds. 

Julian Earley is a junior who, after intense deliberation, is building a specialized marketing and sales degree. For Earley, their future economic situation had a significant influence in choosing their major.

“I’m entirely financially supporting myself, so it was one of those things like I need to have a career right after I graduate college,” they said.  

Earley is hardly the only one concerned with job security. Neve Masterson is an undecided freshman, and while she may love reading, a career structured around that hobby is not suited for her. 

“I love writing, but I know that I wouldn’t make the salary that I want and I would be unhappy,” she said. 

With such a heavy emphasis on whether an intended career makes more or less money, it can unintentionally label certain majors as better than others. 

Even without factoring in the prioritization of money, majors are separated into the categories of “prestigious” and “not prestigious.” Rachel Brown, a sophomore nursing student, struggled with this hierarchy when deciding to switch her major. 

When she began her freshman year, Brown was in biology pre-med. After realizing the pre-med program was not how she wanted to learn, Brown made the difficult choice to switch. 

“There was a lot of shame and guilt in switching my major because I kind of looked down on nursing majors,” she said, “But it’s really just different, now that I’ve seen both sides of it.” 

Majors themselves are not the only thing that get stereotyped, but also the people within them do too. Earley struggled with how their major aligned with others’ perceptions. 

“I was very focused on what I was good at, and I was very caught in what people thought I would do,” they said. 

When settling on a business major, they feared how it would represent them. 

“I was like, ‘Oh if I go into business, I’m going to be selling out. I’m going to not at all be the kind of person I want to be because there’s so much stereotyping,’” they said. “Within majors, it's like ‘everyone who does this is this type of person, and does this type of thing with their life,’ when it’s a lot more varied than that.”

There is a fear among students that if they bend underneath the weight of all these expectations, they will lose themselves; however, that is not an inevitable reality. Brown has found that it is a unique balance. 

“I had to prioritize my interests between what I could pursue professionally and what I couldn’t,” she said. 

Earley seems to agree as well. 

“People think: ‘If it’s not my major, I’m not going to have time for it and it can no longer be an interest of mine’ and that’s just not true,” Earley said. Entering the workforce is not the equivalent of abandoning a passion. 

Choosing a major is a loaded task, and there are countless reasons a student may doubt themself. People believe that once they choose a path, they can never deviate from it. As Masteron puts it, “Committing to it is so scary.” 

Even while remaining apprehensive of that commitment, Brown is prioritizing looking forward.

“It’s really the end goal that keeps me motivated, and I know that doesn’t apply to everyone, but that’s really how it is,” she said.  

In the end, it is important to remember that college is but a vehicle to the future, and the future is never set in stone.

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