Are college majors a thing of the past?

Preparing young people for college, whether they choose majors or not.

It is that time of year when college students are swarming to college campuses, getting settled in dorm rooms, mapping out the locations of all of their classes and preparing for the beginning of a school year. According to Michigan State University Extension, a question each student will likely be asked dozens of times through this next year is “So, what is your major?” While a student may not know what they are going to do within that major, or even if that will be their major next year, they all know what their current major is. Majors are how we organize ourselves. It is the way students can quickly size up another student and it is the way many colleges organize their academic departments. They are a staple to colleges and college students.

So, what if a college did not have majors? Instead, what if students were asked what problems they wanted to solve and then pursue coursework that would help them toward that goal? That is the design of one proposed college in Canada and a direction supported by author Jeff Selingo in his article, “Let’s Kill the College Major”.

At face value it seems to be comparing educational experiences that are content-focused (majors) against issue-based practices that rely on thinking and problem solving skills. However, a point that I think most people can agree with is that it is important to instill our young people with both the content knowledge to understand issues within their given field of study and the life skills to communicate, analyze information and solve problems that they encounter. This is important in life, not just within their careers. Knowing what fields of study interest youth, as well as what issues and challenges a young person is passionate about, is critical in guiding their academic growth and development. Both components are important. Environments that are able to put both of these areas together in a safe and diverse space can help young people grow their interests and abilities. These experiences can start in organizations like 4-H Youth Development that work to connect in-school learning with real-world experiences and strive to be a medium that builds life skills though project based experiences. Exposing youth to experiences that connect both knowledge-based information along with life skills to apply knowledge to issues will help our young people succeed.

Whether or not college students choose majors, it is the student’s and professional’s ability to solve problems, think critically and make sound decisions that will elevate them above their peers and help make them successful. Pursuing rich learning experiences that foster an environment to explore, ask questions and seek answers to questions is a great step in building academically successful young people that can thrive in a complex and challenging world. 4-H youth are ready, are you?

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