Lironne Lang has just come out of a psychology class.
The teacher is just amazing! she says. He tells jokes and he doesnt talk in a monotone that makes you think, When will this class be over? Were talking about Freud, who thought that everything was based on sex, and we may be getting to Jung soon. I think my major will be psychology.
Then she reconsiders.
The only problem is, like, neurotransmitters. . .the teacher says well be getting into the science of psychology soon. I hate science and math. Im never good at science and math except when I had outstanding teachers in high school who got me through it. If theres a lot of science in psychology
not fun, being an open major. The term means that you havent decided
on a major when you enter The University of Iowa. The University encourages
students to enter as open majors, because it takes a while to know where
their true interests lie. Introductory courses give students a look at
several fields of study, and since they count as General Education Program
courses in most majors, no time is lost by delaying the decision.
Deciding on a Major
When Lang arrived at orientation, she thought she might major in art.
Im an art-lover but I decided I couldnt dedicate myself to it for four years, taking all those prerequisites, in order to finally get to what I really want to dographic designonly in the last year, she says.
When I registered, all the French classes were full, she says. So I took Masterpieces of Art. But over the summer I was so determined that I didnt want to take French in second semester and then again in the first semester of my sophomore year, that I kept checking with the Department of French and Italian to see if anything had opened up. I finally found an open French class and signed up for it. I tried to call my adviser, but she wasnt available. So I dropped Masterpieces and also Online at Iowa, which I can take later.
Great! says Ginger Russell, Langs academic adviser. The more she learns to do herself, the better for her.
So far, Langs process is not unusual, Russell notes, especially her decision not to major in art. The biggest challenge of working with first-year students is their lack of understanding of what a potential major involves, especially when they start by identifying a glamorous career field first.
Obviously, television is a great influence, she says. Every year some of them want to become a profiler, for example, but they dont want to take chemistry! Twenty years ago, everyone wanted to be a computer science major but not take math.
But Russell has a hunch that Lang may well wind up in psychology despite her nervousness about science, because she is enjoying her first class.
Most students hate it (psychology), Russell says. They enroll thinking that theyll get to talk about their parents or how theyre affected by their zodiac signs, and it turns out to be animals in cages. That isnt at all what they had in mind.
Several weeks later, Lang confirms that hunch.
Im still thinking of majoring in psychology and I love it, she says. Next semester Im getting into cognitive psychology.
Surprises at Orientation
For students accustomed to having a high school adviser choose courses for them, orientation can be a real shock. Lang realized her life was changing.
It worried me when Erin (McKee, the student adviser for Lang and a small group of other students) said, Heres your book, select the courses you want, then check the times theyre offered and work out your schedule. I thought, Excuse me? My counselor always did that for me. Im not with my parents, and I have to make this decision before I see them again. My life has been all about discussing things with my parents and making a decision based on their feedback. Thats just the way it is.
While that was unnerving, she says, I realized that everyone there was where I am, and the advisers had made sure I had what I needed to make a decision.
Parents Have to Adjust, Too
Parents have trouble with the idea that their student has to make important decisions without them, says Andrew Cinoman, director of Orientation Services. We tell them, Your student has to make hundreds of important decisions each day without you; thats the meaning of college.
There will be mistakes, and your student will learn from them. Thats what students come to college for, Cinoman tells parents. Iowa is a huge institution. Some class sizes may be larger than your hometown. Your student will have to be assertive to get needs met. He or she will have to ask questions and persist.
Advising Open Majors
Russell met with Lang for about 15 minutes at orientation. Russell says thats about the average length for a first visit. She checks schedules to make sure theyll work, but her goal is to reassure students.
I dont give a lot of details then, she says. They wouldnt hear them. I look at the choices theyve made. The goal is to get a good fit, so I look at high school rank, high school grade-point average, courses taken, test scores, preferences, and major, if theyve chosen one.
When a student finally is ready to choose a major, Russell says, I get them to talk to a person in that department, perhaps the undergraduate head. I can give information on how to sequence the courses, but I cant get them as excited as someone who teaches the courses. And its excitement that is important when theyre ready to begin a major.
With second semester registration looming, Lang went to see Russell to figure out her schedule.
She told me I had to have my measles shot before I could register, so I did that. I didnt have too many decisions to make, since I began two-semester courses this semester. So I sat down at the computer and registered for Rhetoric twice a week, a General Education Program course called Technology and Society, and Introduction to Cognitive Psychology, to study the way we think. I tried to register for second-semester French, but the only class available was at 8:30 a.m., and I know myself too well for that. So I registered for Religion and Society for my humanities requirement, but I might change that if a section of French opens up. Otherwise, Ill have to take French in summer school or wait until fall semester for it. I also registered for Medical and Technical Terminology, which is a two-semester-hour course on the Internet that teaches terms Ill need to know.
I have 16 hours now, but if I need to I can drop courses to take French, she says.
Beyond the next semester, Russell and Lang talked about requirements for the psychology major. The conversation raised a major problem for Lang.
I dont know about majoring in psychology any longer, Lang says. It would take way longer than I really thought, with graduate school necessary. I really love psychology and perhaps Ill still major in it, but Im not sure Im ready to say Ill go that long. I have to think about it.
Actually, she says, I have to talk to my parents next.
By Anne Tanner