- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Maureen Fitzgerald wanted to find out what she was good at before declaring a major at the University of Dayton. So she took communication, philosophy, history and English, among other courses.

She’s still looking.

“So far I really haven’t found a set profession that’s like — it,” said Miss Fitzgerald, a 19-year-old sophomore. “A part of me is worried about if I’m going to find something.”

Colleges across the country are devoting more time, money and staff to students who can’t decide on a major, concerned that many of them will leave school without graduating or will prolong their college careers and take up precious spots for prospective students. Indecision can be costly for students, as well, in times of rising tuition.

The University of South Carolina this semester more than doubled its staff of advisers focusing on undergraduates who can’t settle on a major. The school opened a center aimed largely at undecided students that will cost $580,000 a year to operate. The cluster of airy, glass-paneled offices includes group study rooms in which undecideds are tutored by fellow students in an effort to give them a connection to certain academic programs.

At Ohio University, a majors fair offering 60 fields-of-study booths with representatives from different colleges drew nearly 2,000 students, double what it did last year. Bulletin boards pinned with information about the major of the month are popping up in dorms at Western Michigan University.

Ohio University now requires students to declare a major before they complete 75 credit hours, instead of 90 previously. Many students must meet with their adviser every quarter to make sure they are taking courses that keep them on track, and a help center for them has opened in the student union.

The University of Washington is so concerned about these students that advisers are seeking them out, peppering them with e-mails and postcards to get them to come in for guidance.

Laura Avila, assistant director of special programs, said each of her counselors has more than 600 students assigned to them.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said.

Of the 1,800 first-year students who entered the University of Dayton this semester, 39 percent had not settled on a major. That’s the highest percentage in four years.

Some students remain undeclared well into their sophomore years, confused about what careers will be rewarding in the rapidly changing job market and leaning on their schools to help them decide. Dayton created a sophomore orientation this fall.

Anne Pici, an adviser at Dayton, encourages students to take a variety of courses their first two years and then talk to teachers and upperclassmen in fields that have piqued their interest. She is counseling 12 undecided sophomores.

“All of them are panicked that they don’t have a major,” she said.

College officials say many students were so focused on extracurricular activities in high school that they spent little time considering career choices.

“They are more sheltered and more accustomed to adults making decisions for them and keeping them on track,” said Chrissy Coley, director of retention and planning at the University of South Carolina’s Student Success Center.

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