My name is Carl Shan. I’m one of the co-founders of CompassPoint and am currently a student at UC Berkeley. I’ve been entrusted with the important task of creating a module on debunking college myths .
There are some myths that I’m sure all of you have heard about and do not yet know that they’re myths! As someone who has just survived his first year in college, I definitely know some of the things I heard as high-schooler were completely untrue.
Thus, it’s my hope that this module has the ability to shed some light on some issues that may be misleading.
Ultimately however, my greatest hope in making this module though is to use this as an opportunity to point out that you shouldn’t automatically treat anything you hear about college as an absolute truth. That includes what I’m about to tell you as well.
College is a more self-defined experience than many people realize. Many statements that try to capture a very specific facet about college, such as ‘it’s much harder than high-school’ are too subjective and need to be qualified to hold some grain of truth.
My hope is that by reading this module, you’ll come to the same understanding. If after reading this module, you become more skeptical of blanket claims on college and instead take the time to vet these claims using your own judgment, independent research and your own experiences, then I would be satisfied in knowing that I had done my job.
Hoping only the best for you,
Myth # 1– College is MUCH Harder than High School
It would be more accurate to say that college work load is profoundly different from high school. There will be classes that challenge you at a level you’ve never been challenged before. Yet there will also be classes have their entire grade determinant hinged on a 50 question multiple choice test. There are in-built mechanisms that buffer against hard courses like the Pass/No Pass system and late drop deadlines that can all work in your favor.
However, I will so that there is going to be a lot more reading in college. And that’s a fact. You’ll be expected to go through books and books of material, piled on top of a heap of articles and snippets you must also be on top of. In international studies class I was in, I had to finish four 300+ page books through the semester. Whether you think this is a good or bad thing (I personally LOVE it) is completely up to you. Regardless, I think everyone should be prepared to put their reading caps on when they attend college.
In addition, although it’s true that very few people graduate from college with a 4.0 or even a 3.9+ GPA, much of this damage is self-inflicted and springs from the newfound freedom that faces a young college freshman. Parties, drinking, the city life all tempt students away from the path to a high GPA. I’m not saying all of these things are necessarily bad, but much of these weren’t as readily available in high-school. As a result, students unwind a bit too much and stop going to class or tank due more to their youthful indiscretion than the difficulty of their courseload.
Heavy emphasis on self-motivated learning (i.e. not going to class seems to be the norm for many)
Lots of reading!
Many assignments with weight spread out.
More hand-held learning
Not as much reading…maybe if you’re in AP Bio
College vs high school
In my experience, classes have not been significantly tougher in college. The biggest difference that I’ve experienced in terms of the difference between college courses and my high school courses is where students need to concentrate their time and effort towards . Homework is almost a negligible part of overall class grade and the focus is much heavier on a few midterms and one final. This is different from high-school courses where there are plenty of opportunities through either having many tests, participation, or miscellaneous ‘free points’ that buffered grades. One class that I took had their entire course grade hinged on three papers and participation. Underperforming on a single one could throw your whole grade into limbo. But this might be preferable for some students who would rather spend large chunks of time working on significant projects rather than going through a slew of smaller tasks. In My Experience…
I would say that college classes are undoubtedly much harder than high school classes :P I feel like I spend a lot more time on classes now! Brandon’s Thoughts
Myth # 2– You NEED to know your intended major when applying
Statistically speaking, on average college students change their major three times. In addition, at least 80% of students change their major at least once. I know that I’ve already gone through several changes of heart in terms of what I wanted to study.
Unless you’re applying to a very specific department of school within a university i.e. Wharton, don’t worry too much about not being able to switch your major. I know people that only discovered what they wanted to study their Junior year and still finished in 4 years!
But this also means that you shouldn’t ever be supremely confident in your own path and, when setting up your course schedule, disallow for any flexibility. It’s important to understand that the coming years holds a lot of volatility, change and surprises. There’s no shame in being cautious and not gunning hardcore for that one major you think you want right now.
However, when you are applying for colleges, I do think it’s very helpful to choose a major that at least holds some semblance to the activities you were involved in in high school. To colleges, that shows actual passion and dedication in a field. Thus for example if you have been writing for local newspapers and have been published multiple times, it would be more consistent with your achievements to declare an English or Journalism major even if you didn’t necessarily want to study those things.
In My Experience… So I declared a Sociology major when applying to colleges. However, I had no intention of following through on that course of study when I arrived. When I got to Cal I thought about majoring in Economics, Business Administration, Philosophy and Psychology and now it seems that I’m more attracted to Statistics. I think that this just goes to show you how little you should believe that you need to have a set major when you go to college. I have a friend at USC who changed his major 3 times, yet still managed to graduate in 3.5 years! Don’t be scared by thinking that you won’t be able to graduate in time—with the right planning you can finish in 4 years and still study whatever it was you wanted to study.
I usually use a different strategy when I tell people that they don't need to worry about finding a major so early yet. First of all, I think it's completely unreasonable for people to know what they want to do by the time they graduate high school, because they've been exposed to so incredibly little of the world. Even by the end of college, there is still so little that we'll have experienced! My math professor says that if you can figure out what you want to do with your life by the time you're 25, then you're in great shape. In fact, I think that if you can figure out what you want to do with your life at any point, that's just wonderful! But definitely, I agree that they should still choose a major and go with it. It definitely helps with your applications, but it also helps with your journey of finding what you want to do. If you're lost in a forest and you don't know which way to go, you just pick a direction until you realize that you should back, rather than just bumming around and not trying anything out. When you pick a path to go down, you should fully commit and give it the attention and focus it deserves, but you should also recognize when it's time to stop, turn back, and try something else. It's a delicate balance that I don't think we can advise with simple generalizations. Brandon’s thoughts…
Myth # 3– You won’t get a job with a ‘soft’ major
Soft majors are those that are more in line with the humanities and less technical. Some examples of popular ‘soft’ majors may be Political Science, Psychology and Sociology.
There is some truth to this in the sense that employers love to see students who took academically rigorous and challenging majors like Computer Science or Math. There are also careers that almost shut you out if you didn’t major in a particular major. Investment banking for example heavily favors applicants who majored in Business Administration or Economics over almost ANY other major.
However it is my unqualified belief that even if you major in the most, stereotypically speaking, useless major, your success in hunting for a job is ABSOLUTELY dependent upon yourself. I know a guy who majored in English and was commonly told that the most he could do after graduating would be to flip burgers at McDonalds. However this guy didn’t just study English. He immersed himself in it. He had been honing and refining his writing ability since day 1 of college. He threw himself into the arena, being battered and worn out at every turn but all it did was make him better and stronger. His submissions to top-tier publications became more and more likely to be accepted and upon graduating, he received a job offer from an elite publishing company.
In the end, a ‘soft’ major can hold you back only if you let it hold you back. If you apply yourself to the greatest extent possible, then I have utmost confidence in your success.
Reality: Qualified No
It’s not the major that makes the man. The man is what makes the major (replace man with woman if that’s the case for you). If you are truly passionate about what you want to study, even if it’s something that is usually heralded as ‘useless’ I say go for it. Did you know that Philosophy majors score the highest on the MCAT out of all those who take it? And I know of an East Asian Studies major who is now in law school at Columbia. In fact, what you may believe to be a ‘safe’ major in terms of securing a job after graduation are oversaturated. Business is one of the most popular majors in the nation yet also has an incredibly low placement into jobs. Do what you want. But no matter what, make sure you’re the absolute best at it. And that’s really the core of success in life. In My Experience…
I think the idea is that there are certain qualities that recruiters look for that fewer people with soft majors have. In a very general sense, some soft majors just don't have "marketable" skills. I suppose technically, a philosophy major can't directly apply what he learned in industry. I see a few interesting things in this topic: 1. An average person with a soft major will have a much more difficult time finding a job than the average person with a hard major. I suppose it's partly due to a skew in the labor demand market? But I think it's true -- if you want to succeed with a soft major, you got to be outstanding. 2. Jobs for soft majors are harder to think of, and so we think there are less of them. Million of people fall under the category of "engineer" or "scientist," but the titles for people with soft majors vary incredibly. I actually just learned what a copywriter was a few weeks ago! The paths to these jobs are often not as obvious. 3. Skills learned from a soft major are not immediately marketable. Each student has to work hard to sell their experience and skill set. This is much easier for people with hard majors. Brandon’s Thoughts…
In sum, I hope that you all have gleaned some bits and pieces of insight from my pedantic ramblings.
I also hope that everyone has noticed in all the myths that I attempted to debunk, there was no yes or no answer. All of my experiences in college has shown that there isn’t a black and white side to these things.
College carries along with it a host of new experiences and opportunities. It is also an innately subjective experience that is completely determinable by the student. So don’t limit yourself by subscribing to some sort of overarching generalization about college and molding your beliefs and yourself accordingly.
Be passionate, be inspired, be challenged and always be the best that you can be. I hope to leave you with these words as a token of my appreciation for being part of CompassPoint and genuinely wish that you take it to heart. It is only by truly BELIEVING and LIVING according to the wisdom that you are able to extract from life, and not simply passively nodding your head in agreement, that you are able to change yourself for the better.
Hoping the best for you,
Helpful Websites and Resources http://calnewport.com/blog/ - This is a blog by famous student blogger Calvin Newport, an alumni of Dartmouth College and MIT. He will soon be an adjunct professor at Georgetown College. His advice on this blog is both refreshing and inspiring as he tries to tear down much of the stereotypical advice that we encounter from our peers. I don’t always agree with what he says, but I always believe that his advice is worth a listen. It’s one of my favorite blogs to read and I think much of my personal philosophy has been shaped by the posts and books that I’ve read by Calvin. http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/ - This is a blog by a student by the name of Scott Young and is centered around getting MORE from life. It runs in the same vein as Cal’s blog, but with a slightly less focus on academics and more on life in general. He’s a student at a Canadian college and amidst his impressive extracurricular achievements has maintained a GPA between an A and an A+. His blog is worth a read as well. I would highly suggest subscribing to their newsletter or RSS feed to be kept up to date with each of their new blog posts. I hope you guys take the time to seriously read and consider what they have to say and eventually take as much from them as I have.
Thank you! Carl Shan and Brandon liu UC Berkeley & Harvard [email_address] & email@example.com