College Helping 'Undecideds' Select Career/Academic Major

Published 10.04.2005

Student News

Are most teenagers prepared to select their career or college major before they graduate from high school?

This question is driving admissions and career counseling in a new direction at Pennsylvania College of Technology, an affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University in Williamsport.

A special mission campus of Penn State, committed to applied technology education, Penn College built its reputation on hands-on education. The college's unique approach to curriculum, at both baccalaureate- and associate-degree levels, places a majority of freshman students into classes directly related to their career choice in their first semester.

But this immediate immersion into career-directed classes presents a special challenge for those not prepared to make a career choice when they apply for admission. In the past, Penn College did not accept applications from anyone who was not ready to declare a major. This fall, the process changed to allow applicants to Penn College to declare they are "undecided."

While it is possible now to apply to Penn College without selecting a major, the goal is to help the applicants make choices that are right for them prior to the start of classes.

"Some campuses offer 'undeclared' students the opportunity to attend classes for several years without choosing a major," said Chester D. Schuman, director of admissions. "Our goal is to focus the students as early as possible on their career interests and abilities, so that they can make a viable choice before they schedule their first-semester classes."

The Admissions Office and the Counseling, Career and Disability Services Office at Penn College have teamed up to provide the "undecided" applicants with immediate assistance. Among the services available are individual appointments or group tours, during which time the student can explore career interests and get input on career direction from college counselors.

Students who apply to Penn College also are invited to attend a full-day "Choosing Your College Major" session. Fall sessions are scheduled for Oct. 19, Nov. 3, Nov. 14 and Nov. 16. Additional sessions will be scheduled early in 2006.

Sharon Waters, director of counseling, career and disability services, said the one-day session provides the most extensive opportunities for "undecided" students.

"This is one of the most important decisions we ever make, so it is not unusual to feel confused and overwhelmed when choosing a career or college major," she said. "If students are not excited about their choices, or if they feel they are being too strongly influenced by others, they should take time to meet with us and talk about their options."

Waters said students' academic standing and college placement-test results should also be carefully considered when they make their choices.

"Each career or major has its own academic requirements and challenges," she explained. "The students' abilities need to be considered when they're choosing their careers and college majors."

The one-day "Choosing Your College Major" session will help "undecided" applicants assess their interests, abilities, skills, personality, values and work-environment needs. In addition, it will encourage students to use techniques such as informational interviews, job-shadowing and observation to help them learn more about fields that interest them.

" We want to encourage students to really explore the opportunities and choose majors that they will love studying and careers that they will love doing," Waters said.

Schuman and Waters will present more details on services for "undecided" applicants to high school guidance counselors invited to attend a Counselor's Day on campus on Oct. 21.

"Many students who are uncertain about their futures turn to high school counselors and teachers for assistance," Schuman said. "We want them to know about our services for "undecided" applicants so that they can encourage the students interested in Penn College to seek out our help in choosing a career and college major."

The Admissions Office staff also will help to acquaint "undecided" students and their families with some unique career opportunities that they might not have considered.

"Fields like electric power generation, health information technology, plastics, electronics, graphic communications and others are begging us to graduate more students who fill their workplace needs," Schuman said. "By making more 'undecided' students aware of these opportunities, we not only can help the student find a great career, we also can help support the industries that desperately need qualified workers."

Schuman said this kind of career support is a tradition at Penn College a tradition based in the college's history.

"One of our founders, Dr. George Parkes, gained national prominence during the Great Depression, when he developed the Williamsport Plan here on our campus," he said. "That plan involved visiting every local business, determining what skills were needed to help each business succeed, and then training an individual to fill that particular need. Today, we are carrying on in the tradition of Dr. Parkes and Williamsport Technical Institute by helping to bring students and industries together."

Students, as well as high school guidance counselors and teachers who are interested in learning more about how to choose a career and college major, are invited to attend Fall Visitation Day at Penn College on Sunday, Oct. 30. On that day, three one-hour "Choosing a Major" sessions will be offered in Penn's Inn on the second floor of the Bush Campus Center. Sessions begin at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

For additional information, visit the college Web site or contact the Admissions Office at (570) 327-4761 or by e-mail.