I’m not often clairvoyant, except when I ask college bound students their potential major. Though my track record isn’t 100%, I can say with certainty, the most common answer is premed (which at many schools isn’t even an actual major, but a pre-professional option), followed by business for some, engineering for others and then everyone else. Now, there’s nothing wrong with premed and in fact, the passion to pursue a career in medicine reminds me of the promise and drive flowing through the veins of young people, of their ‘I can do anything’ attitude and of their desire to make a change in our world.
What I can also predict with uncanny precision are the grades of these same students. With the exception of a small percentage, the others do not demonstrate an aptitude for math or science and the challenge then becomes, how do you help a student nurture her academic strengths and discover potential major options that capitalize on her strengths?
I’m a big believer in the undecided major for one simple reason. Despite passion, strengths, skills or pressures, the fact remains that 18-year olds are still in flux. From a biological and brain development perspective and from a psychological perspective, they aren’t fully developed. In practice, mentoring thousands of these 18-year olds through the college preparation, college admission and on-campus college support phases, I am certain everyone of them benefited from academic exploration. For some this means changing their major 10 times or failing a major requirement course, for others it’s feeling completely lost and directionless and yet for others it’s discovering a passion for a different speciality in an already desired major. And even for those students who enter college premed and graduate having completed premed requirements, those moments of forced exploration due to anything from challenges to boredom to insistence from parents to stick with, helped them further identify their own path.
Which leads me to my final observation. Premed might actually be about parents and not about students at all. This is not to say there aren’t actually students who themselves want to embark on the premed track, but when you dig just below the surface, you find remnants of parental pressure, guilt and reputation weighing heavily on the shoulders of these kids. Even if they are science whizzes and would make excellent doctors, if they happen to find another passion during their college journey, they couldn’t pursue it because of their parents.
Now, of course I’m over generalizing about parental pressure, but there’s something both powerfully motivating and powerfully stifling about this pressure many have felt and many will project (knowingly and unknowingly), that it’s worth recognizing.