College might as well be another universe. The schedule is different. The lifestyle is more independent. The teachers are now ‘professors’ with different agendas.
But the key difference, the holy grail for high school students who felt they had limited options, is the variety in choices for a college major.
In college, you have an almost endless array of subjects to choose from. In high school, students have maybe seven or eight options. But college students could take courses in physics, astronomy, sociology, psychology, microbiology, philosophy, religious studies, linguistics, and more. What a student is interested in pursuing can (and should) factor into what schools they apply to because each one will have different strengths and specialties. Having even a vague idea of a major is a huge step in college planning.
So, what should a high school student do to get an idea of what majors and programs they’d like to pursue? Here are three tips to help navigate.
1. Take a Community College Class
Though community colleges are typically very different than four-year universities, they will still have a decent variety and follow a lecture format. Not only will a student get to “rehearse” for their college studies, but they can take specialized courses. They could consider an evening course about European History. Or, they might try a class about Criminal Law. The options may not be as abundant—but they will have plenty of courses not offered by a typical high school. All you should do is check with the high school if students can concurrently enroll at a community college.
2. Sit in on or Audit Classes at a University
Sitting in on a variety of courses can be a very efficient way to get a scope of the different subjects you can take. If you’re out visiting colleges, ask the staff if a student could sit in on a couple of classes from different programs. This way, the student could get a feel for the programs and how they differ from one another.
Auditing classes is a different kind of commitment. This is basically when a student can come to every course and participate, but isn’t allowed to complete classwork or receive a grade. The professors are typically the ones to approve an audit. This will give students a deeper understanding of the subject, but will require much more commitment. Either way, when doing your college planning, make sure to include this on a pre-graduation checklist!
3. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Now is not the time to take English at a college. Now is the time to look at something wacky or interesting that a student would have never tried before. It’s the time to take a ‘Politics of the Simpsons’ course, or get incredibly specific with a subject a student already likes. Interested in studying law? What kind? Corporate? Criminal? This is a chance to get a sense of interest and choose the university that is strongest in those areas.
Alas, here’s another fact: students will change their majors many, many times. The first two years of college are meant for exploring the sandbox, for picking toys and then throwing them away for new ones. That doesn’t mean students should be careless. They can know that what they think they like now will change. But when there is a chance to prepare, it should not be forsaken!