In the winter issue of Parent Times, first-year student Lironne Lang let us follow her progress as she worked to find the perfect major. She registered last summer as an open major after discarding a planned art major, then considered psychology because she loved her first class in that subject. Still undecided at the end of fall semester, she said shed talk with her parents over the holidays and let us know where she was heading. This is the conclusion of a two-part series.
After some useful conversations with her parents, Lironne Lang returned to campus with an old idea that had become new again.
Im thinking about a double major in art and psychology, Lang says. Yes, back to art! Im really interested in art, but not art historyand thats what Id need to take. So I had decided against it. But Ive always loved art. My mom used to draw with me when I was a kid.
I had stopped thinking about it as a major because it seemed like a leisure activity, not a career. But lots of people here major in art, so Im changing my mind on that. My parents reminded me how much I enjoy art, and as I talked with them, it seemed like something I should reconsider.
A lot of people
come here knowing exactly what they want, she sighs. Im
not one of them.
Open Majors Are OK
Lang is not alone. Open is one of the most-chosen major fields when students register for their first classes. Some students have trouble choosing a major because they like too many fields; to others, nothing sounds exactly right.
The University of Iowa encourages open majors, advising students to take time making the decision, which is one of the most important theyll make as an undergraduate. General Education Program courses, which are required, are designed to introduce students to fields of study that can become strong interests and develop into a major. So students lose nothing in most majors by completing those requirements and waiting a few semesters to decide.
Lang currently is taking her second semester of Rhetoric and French, Cognitive Psychology, and a General Education course called Technology and Society.
Im in the Tech and Society course with my boyfriend and seven other friends, so we study together, she says. Im getting a Gen Ed credit and its fun and easy. I wanted to enroll in a religion course called Quest for Human Destiny, but its so popular that it filled really fast. Ill do that next year when I can outrank any freshman at registration!
Langs big interest this semester is cognitive psychology. The decision about whether shell combine it with art will have to wait until fall semester next year, when shell take her first art courses, she says.
I took Fundamentals
of Art in high school, and then in the summer, I took a course in ceramics
and loved it, she says. I worked at a ceramics store for six
months. Next year, Ill take Basic Drawing and Art History and then
see if thats something I want to do.
Learning About Herself
While shes still working on her choice of major, Lang says she notices other changes in herself from first semester.
Im more focused this semester, she says. I went out with friends a lot last semester and had a lot of fun. I got decent grades, but I know I can do a lot better. I think, its second semester and I should be getting better at this.
She says shes learned not to overload her schedule.
Ive decided I dont really want to take five courses a semester during the year, she says. Ill stick to four per semester and try to do better with them. I had signed up for a fifth course this semester, Medical and Technical Terminology. because it would give me two more hours. But all I would be doing is memorizing terminology I wouldnt need again. So I dropped it and now I have only 14 semester hours of courses. Ill make up for that this summer, when I plan to take a mathematics course and a science course with a laboratory section.
Since Lang signed up for the Four-Year Graduation Plan, which requires students to take at least 15 semester hours of courses in order to accumulate the required 120 semester hours of credits in eight semesters, summer school is a necessity. But she thinks it will be fun, too, to take the courses then instead of during the year, since shes not a great fan of math and science.
She says her academic adviser, Ginger Russell, advised her to get her math and science courses out of the way as soon as possible.
Russell says its not unusual that a student who enrolls with an open major would not find the right major by the end of the first year.
Sometimes, a student does choose a major in the first year and still winds up changing it later, too, she says.
We (academic advisers) sometimes need to anticipate what route the student is taking and try to move her into two camps: OK, while you work on X academic area, why dont you also take courses in Y, too, to get another General Education credit. We may be thinking that Y is a likely choice that this student hasnt thought about yet.
In Lironne's case, for example, I've mentioned art therapy to her because it combines her interest in psychology and art.
By asking questions and making suggestions, advisers hope to head off problems and nudge students toward the majors that match their interests.
Lets just say that we think of Plan B more often than the students do, she says. Were here to serve and protect!
While students are told about academic advising and urged to make appointments, frequently advisers grab opportunities to see their students as they come by for another reasonto get a signature on a drop card, for example.
We deal with
whatever crisis has brought them there, and then urge them to talk about
how theyre doing beyond that crisis, she says. If they
just pop in without an appointment, we might not be able to see them right
away, but we do urge them to make the appointment and come back in.
Time to Study
Lang says shes learned how to manage friendships, too. After getting her final grades for her first semester, she knows she needs to work harder on her courses.
I think my friends are focused on doing well, and Im dedicated to doing better myself, she says. Ive learned you cant let personal issues get before school in your priorities.
Shes convinced that the 2.80 grade-point average she earned last semester is not a good guide to what she can do. Her parents dont think so, either.
They said, Dont come home if your average is below 3.30, she says with a smile. I didnt make it last semester. I know I can do better.
One strategy is to get to know her professors before the end of the semester, she notes.
Actually, Ive been closer to the TAs (teaching assistants) in my classes, she says. I can relate more to them. But I would like to talk to my professors this semester.
Last semester after classes ended, I went to see my psychology professor and thanked him, telling him I had found the class really interesting. I got to know himbut not until the end of the semester. He thanked me for coming because students dont often do that. But I realized that if I had gotten to know him earlier it would have been better. So Im going to see my current professor and have her explain to me some things about the course. I think I will like the course better if I do that.
Lang and her Rhetoric
professor have conversations on e-mail, and in French, Lang participates
a lot in class, she says. Her Technology and Society professor has been
thorough in taking the class step by step through the material, she says,
so that course is not a problem.
Then Theres Homesickness
Over the holiday break, Lang considered transferring to a college closer to her home in the Chicago suburbs, in order to be closer to her family, especially a sister who is just beginning high school.
I was thinking that if I could go to school closer to my home, I wouldnt miss out on my sisters life, she says. I wanted to be closer to her.
She admits that shes very close to her family and their advice and support is important to her when she needs to make a decision.
If I have an idea, I ask them about it and I take their opinions into consideration, she says. Theyre wiser than I am in many ways. My dad has always been really big on being a close family, and we are.
She thought about a possible transfer while working in a food shop for the month-long semester break. But at the end, she knew she wanted to return to Iowa.
Im really looking forward to starting art classes next fall, she says. Im thinking about interior design as a career.
By Anne Tanner