Declaring a Major


‘Round these parts, students take a class called “Freshman Experience.” It’s designed to keep first-timers around by giving them some actual study skills and a realistic view of what’s expected at the university. Not a bad idea. If I’d had such a class maybe I wouldn’t have received that “invitation to take a semester off and think about your priorities” letter I got in the mail after my freshman year.

One requirement of the “Freshman Experience” class is to interview a professor about their first year in college and include that information in a lengthy, culminating paper assignment.
It’s that time of year, I guess. Students say they come to me because they think I’ll tell good stories. Or long ones. Either way, I’m interviewed quite often. I like doing the interviews. It puts my fabulously unsuccessful first college attempt to good use.

I’m a cautionary tale.

I did so many things wrong as a college freshman that each year during these interviews I’m able to give a different slant to the cautionary tale. It keeps things interesting, I hope, for the professor who actually has to grade these papers. As a Iraq war/abortion/gay marriage paper-reading veteran, I do understand the value in a fresh piece of student prose. Believe me.
This year’s theme is Choosing a Major That Won’t Be Obsolete Before You Buy The Cap And Gown.
My first semester in college I took typing, shorthand, business machines, accounting, and sociology. I was a business major that semester and had a really, really good time, but not in class. It’s a good thing that business degree dream died quickly. No one needs shorthand anymore, the type of “business machine(s)” I learned were the clickety-clack ten-key variety, and accounting was a hand-entered ledger workbook. Believe it or not, these were core business major courses.

Sociology was handy, though. Still is.
Since successful CLEP testing threw me into my sophomore year, it was instantly crunch-time when I began. I had to Officially Declare a Major. So I did that. Several times. I majored in philosophy, psychology, speech, and broadcasting briefly and at various moments. I toyed with art, theatre (I never forgot the proper university spelling), and English. Only the Math department was completely safe from me.

As a broadcasting major I took a few interesting classes. Mostly I learned to spin reggae and bluegrass records, although not usually in the same radio show. I learned how to edit and splice audio tape with a razorblade, and how to cue up records so they gloriously began the second I flipped the switch. Even if I get the radio-bug again, my pre-digital recording skills are completely useless. FM radio itself is almost extinct, and it will be for sure when all the Generation Jonesers and Boomers get iPods. It might happen this Christmas.

In my recent research on Generation Y, I ran across some interesting information: by graduation, most college students will be taking jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. What? It took almost thirty years for my college skills to become obsolete. It will take these Gen Yers only four or five. Facebook, it seems, is better training for what’s to come than their business classes. What’s scarier is I think they already know that.

And that English major I finally decided on? While it sounded useless at the time, I’ve found that writing never goes out of style. There are entirely too many people who feel they can’t do it, making those of us who do write feel pretty special. In an online, global world it’s the difference between success and slinging burgers at McDonalds. It’s likely that soon face-to-face skills may not get you hired – your writing may be all prospective employers know of you. It’s not going to matter how you look on paper, it’s going to matter how you look online.
And all that major-hopping? Well, it turns out that may be a good idea since the average Gen Yer can expect to have half a dozen different careers in their lifetime. Careers, I said, not jobs. It’s an excellent argument for a Liberal Arts education, if you think about it. I won’t mention that in the interviews, though, because they all have parents paying godawful amounts of money to get them in and graduate them out. It’s too expensive to Find Yourself in college by major-hopping now. That revolution will have to get more affordable.

Oh, I’ll probably still include something about the importance of attending more classes than frat parties. With a college education, you must be present to win. As far as choosing a major goes I’m sure I’ll tell them to find their intellectual passion and hang on for the ride of their lives.

And to look me up on Facebook.