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Parents Guide for Exploratory Students

As a parent of an exploratory college student, you no doubt have questions about the university and issues central to selecting a major. The university's parents guide offers a quick reference to pertinent and useful information. This guide includes important information about how to assist your student in his or her academic success. We look forward to working with your son or daughter. Like you, we want your exploratory college student to get the most out of this experience.

How to Help Your Student Choose a Major

The best way to help students choose a major is to understand, support, and encourage them while they wrestle with this decision, which can be difficult for many students.

To understand is to realize that many students who enter college as "undeclared" experience high anxiety. They feel as if they should know what they want to do and feel guilty for not knowing. As a result, students place additional pressure on themselves, making an already difficult decision even harder.

Parental support can be critically important for students agonizing over the decision to choose an appropriate major. First, be patient! Many students require time; time to experiment intellectually; time to process vast amounts of new information; and above all, time to discover themselves. Pressuring students to declare before they are ready may rush them into making a costly decision, one that costs them time and you money, if they discover that they've chosen the "wrong major."

Finally, encourage them to aggressively investigate majors in which they are interested using the variety of resources available at Shippensburg University including the information and resources available from the Office for Exploratory Studies. While students have up to three semesters to choose a major, they should realize that time passes quickly. Choosing a major, just like choosing a career, is a process that takes time. The more effort they put into making a good decision now, the happier they will be with their choices.

Myths and Realities of Choosing a Major

  • The major that "worked" for you may not necessarily work for your son or daughter. Just because you enjoyed it and did well in a certain subject, don't assume history will repeat itself. Allow your son or daughter the opportunity to find what works best for them.
  • Many students believe that certain majors offer greater advantages in the job market than others do. Although this may be true in some areas, success in the job market often has more to do with motivation than with a particular major. There is no doubt that students who major in non-technical fields may take longer to find their first jobs. But in the long run, interpersonal skills developed as undergraduates and honed through practical experience often result in better-paying careers. Although future employment is an important consideration, we believe that it should be neither the most important nor the only criteria in selecting a major. Generally, we recommend that students major in what they like and in which they have the skills to succeed. If they like what they're taking, they'll be motivated to work harder, their grades will be higher, and they will have greater opportunities.
  • Many students believe that a direct link exists between their major and a job/career. While this is true for some careers (one cannot be an engineer without an engineering degree; one cannot become a nurse without a nursing degree, etc.), many careers do not require a specific major. One can work in business fields like management, marketing, or human resources with liberal arts degrees in English, history or philosophy, etc. In many cases, the major doesn't matter. Most employers are looking for employees with certain skills such as:
    • Communication - writing, speaking, and listening
    • Computer Proficiency
    • Organizational, Management, Teamwork & Leadership Abilities
    • Adaptability (changing with the times and a willingness to keep learning)
    • Analytical Thinking and Problem-Solving
    • If students can master these skills (which can be acquired through academic work, constructive extracurricular activities, and experience), and can market themselves, they will compete effectively in the job market, regardless of their major.
  • Grades are important! Some majors require high GPAs to declare. Students who earn a 3.0 GPA can declare any major they want (assuming they meet other requirements). Students who earn only a 2.0 GPA limit their choices. It is critically important for students to understand that they have to do well academically right from the start to be able to choose any available major. The better their grades, the more choices they'll have.
  • Many students feel that choosing a major is fraught with implications for the rest of their working life. While choosing a major is a very important decision, its impact is usually limited to the four years of college. The quality of students' working lives will be determined by the quality of their skills and motivation-not by a major. Help them to understand that they need to investigate, test, experiment, choose well, and move on to the world of work.

How to Encourage Your Student

There are several practical ways you can encourage your student to:

  • Work closely with the assigned academic advisor and develop a close working relationship.
  • Cultivate the resources at Shippensburg University - especially other human resources. Faculty and administrative personnel can provide a wealth of information and experience about specific majors.
  • Work with the experienced counselors from the Career Center. They help students further explore the many options available to them.
  • Meet with his or her advisor. Advising is a joint responsibility. It is the advisor's job to be knowledgeable about university programs and services, to be available to their advisees at scheduled times and to assist students with their academic concerns. Exploratory students receive their advisor's name and contact information during the summer before their first semester. It is the students responsibility to know their advisor's office hours, to make and keep advising appointments, to prepare questions, bring any appropriate materials or concerns to the meetings, and to see their advisor whenever they have questions. Students should not assume that their friends know an answer to a question, but instead should see their advisor regularly to discuss any questions or concerns. Studies indicate that there is a high correlation between students who are academically successful and those who work with their advisors; there is an equally high correlation among students who ignore their advisors and academic failure. When should students be meeting with their academic advisor? At least once a month, more often if necessary.

Important Academic Information and Resources

  • General Education Program
  • Academic Major Planning Guides: To view the curriculum sheets (course requirements by major), go to the Guidebook and select the appropriate major.
  • Early Warning Grades: During your student's first-year, they will receive early warning reports. These reports, which do not become part of their academic record, are intended to warn them about classes which they are in danger of failing. The early warning reports can be accessed via the web by the students. Certain groups of students will continue to receive these reports after their first year. Encourage your student to take advantage of the academic resources available such as the Learning Center, which offers free tutoring. Typically it is those students who do not need the extra support who are first to reach out for it, but those that could benefit the most by using the resources, seek them out when it is already too late.
  • AIM Plan: Aim is a voluntary program designed specifically for students who have had academic difficulty. The program is conducted in small group format and each group is facilitated by an instructor and a graduate assistant. Program topics and activities have been designed to target areas in which students typically have difficulty. The instructor and graduate assistant will work with each student to identify what went wrong in the previous semester(s) and provide him or her with information and support so that each student can take control of their own academic life and succeed.
  • Academic Calendar
Contact the Department of Academic Engagement & Exploratory Studies (AEES) Mowrey Hall, 2nd floor 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257 Phone: 717-477-1395