"Undecided" can be the best decision for students

Looking back, deciding to postpone declaring a major was the best decision Tennessee Tech University junior Kelly Chambers could have made when she started college.

Chambers, now an English/Journalism major, is one of an increasing number of students at Tennessee Tech and around the nation who are putting off choosing a major until they have some classes and experience under their belts.

“I didn’t waste any time in my first two years, and I’m still on schedule to graduate in four years,” said Chambers. “I’m very happy that I waited to find out what I enjoy.”

Chambers’ experience is typical of students who are choosing to stay in general curriculum during their first 30 to 45 hours in school, says Edith Duvier, director of TTU’s General Curriculum Program.

“Our number one piece of advice is ‘Don’t panic,’” said Duvier. “Taking time to mature and put the future into focus is a good decision for many students who don’t know what they want out of their education or careers.”

In Duvier’s10 years in the General Curriculum Program, seven as director, she’s seen the number of Tennessee Tech students who wait to declare a major increase from about 200 students to about 650 this year. She says starting in general curriculum is an excellent option for a number of reasons.

First, most students spend their first semester getting comfortable with juggling classes and meeting basic needs, like where to buy a parking pass, how to navigate campus and when to show up to miss long cafeteria lines. As students start to take classes, make friends and become more aware of options, they may entertain several choices based on what they enjoy and what they see their friends studying. If you haven’t declared a major, there’s no effort or time wasted when you change your mind, says Duvier.

Chambers says she became curious about journalism when her roommate took an “Intro to Mass Communications” class. Duvier says that’s one of the most common ways students become aware of career fields and majors.

“We tell students that they do have a major — it’s graduation,” she said. “As long as they chart a plan to move themselves toward graduation in a reasonable time frame by taking core classes common to most majors, they are accomplishing what they are here to do.”

The key is for students in general curriculum to communicate often with the department’s advisors and make sure the classes they are taking will apply toward graduation in almost any major. During that time, Duvier and her staff encourage students to investigate the job market, salary surveys and their own talents.

“We show them how making a wise choice about a major can lead to a more fulfilling career and save them from wasting time in a major they don’t like,” said Duvier. “That’s good news for students and for their parents who are concerned about the time and money it takes to get their students through college.”

Chambers says she encourages any student without a specific interest to follow the path she did.

“By listening to the good advice of the general curriculum advisors, and by putting some effort into exploring my options, I found a major I know I will enjoy,” she said.

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