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Figure 9.1 (Credit: University of the Fraser Valley / Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY 2.0))

Student Story

Michael entered college wanting to become a physical therapist, but he has had difficulty earning good grades in his math and science courses. He knows that graduate school—a requirement for his career pathway—is competitive and his GPA currently needs to be greatly improved if he wants to have a chance of getting in.

This semester he is taking a history course and finds himself excited to do the work and attend class. The way the professor leads the discussion—and the readings she has selected—make Michael want to learn all he can. He has never felt this way in any class and is surprised by his deep interest.

When he calls his family to share how college is going, he mentions that he really likes his history course and that the professor has encouraged him to take more courses in the department. His parents express some concern that he may change his major—and his career pathway—to history or something else that would keep him from a solid, high-paying career in health care.

Michael is not sure what to think after the conversation. He is beginning to question whether physical therapy is the right major for him—it is certainly more challenging than he anticipated—and whether there is something else he wants to explore.

However, he is not sure if history is just an interesting side venture or if it is something he seriously wants to pursue. He is also concerned about what he would do after graduation if he were to change his major so drastically. Would it be better to find another pathway within healthcare even if it is not physical therapy?

Michael is not sure what he should do.

What Do You Think?

  • If you were Michael, what would you have thought when you realized you prefer a different major or career pathway than what you originally thought you would do?
  • How would you have handled the reaction from your family?
  • What could you do to get a better idea of what you really want to study or do after graduation?
  • How do you feel about planning a degree or choosing a career pathway? Why do you feel this way?

Student Survey

How do you feel about your readiness to create an academic and life plan? These questions will help you determine how the chapter concepts relate to you right now. As you are introduced to new concepts and practices, it can be informative to reflect on how your understanding changes over time. Take this quick survey to figure it out, ranking questions on a scale of 1—4, 1 meaning “least like me” and 4 meaning “most like me.”

  1. I know why I want to go to college and what I want to accomplish.
  2. I have set both short- and long-term academic goals.
  3. I am familiar with the requirements I must complete and options I must select to obtain a college degree.
  4. I am familiar with the resources, tools, and individuals who can assist me in developing an effective plan for success.

You can also take this chapter's survey anonymously online.

Student Profile

“I came into my university with little to no knowledge about how to decide a college major. I can now say with confidence that I have found the major for me! This was not an easy process though. It takes a lot of reflection to decide where you will focus your time and energy for your college career. The most important thing I had to consider was what major would provide me with learning outcomes that matter the most to me. I switched my major three or four times and each time I weighed the pros and cons of the major I was exiting and the one I was transitioning into. I decided to major in sociology and it has been the best decision of my academic career! I value social awareness and deep understandings of social phenomenon and sociology provided the course material necessary to place me on a path to begin learning about those topics. As a first-generation and low-income student, navigating college pathways can be difficult. That is why it is so important to be open to change and set on learning what you want, to learn how to get yourself to the next step!”

—Drew Carter, Rice University

About This Chapter

Among the most celebrated differences between high school and college is the freedom that students look forward to when they complete their mandatory high school education and take up the voluntary pursuit of a college degree. Though not every college freshman comes fresh from high school, those who do might be looking forward to the freedom of moving away from home onto a campus or into an apartment. Others might be excited about the potential to sleep in on a Monday morning and take their classes in the afternoon. For others, balancing a class schedule with an already-busy life filled with work and other responsibilities may make college seem less like freedom and more like obligation. In any case, and however they might imagine their next experience to be, students can anticipate increased freedom of choice in college and the ability to begin to piece together how their values, interests, and developing knowledge and skills will unfold into a career that meets their goals and dreams.

By the time you complete this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  • Learn to set short-term goals that build toward a long- term goal, and plan how you will track progress toward your goals.
  • List the types of college certificates, degrees, special programs, and majors you can pursue, as well as general details about their related opportunities and requirements.
  • Take advantage of resources to draft and track an academic plan.
  • Recognize decision-making and planning as continuous processes, especially in response to unexpected change.
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