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Dispelling myths around switching college majors

Georgia State's “meta-majors” give students time to explore different academic paths
University Business, November 2016

Students who arrive at college with a declared major don’t necessarily graduate in a timely manner, and taking the time to explore different academic routes doesn’t always add time to a student’s college career, according to recent research from EAB.

To help new students make the most educated choice, Georgia State University analyzes student performance to guide them in choosing a major that fits for their academic strengths and financial situation.

The university traditionally urged incoming freshmen to declare their major as soon as possible, but it introduced “meta-majors” in 2012. About 60 percent of Georgia State students receive Pell Grants, and many are first-generation college attendees who don’t always get guidance on the ramifications of choosing a major, with little to no informed advisement on the reality of what majors entail.

“We have 90 majors, and the average first-generation student had knowledge of maybe 10 of them,” says Vice Provost Timothy Renick.

During their first fall semester, students select one of seven learning communities (which include business, STEM and health professions) and take courses in these subjects. They also attend a series of alumni panels, open houses and lecture series related to each community’s core classes.

At the end of the term, students meet with advisors to discuss their grades and what will likely be a successful academic path. Advisors use data, culled from the analysis of 2.5 million grades and corresponding courses, to demonstrate the rate of success in a given major. Two screens are used during these meetings, so students can see the hard data supporting advisors’ suggestions.

How major decisions affect graduation

  • 75%-85%: Students who switched majors before they graduate
  • 83%: Completion rate for students who finalized their major between the second semester of freshman year and their senior year
  • 79%: Percentage of students who selected their major the first semester of school and at some point completed a degree
  • 82%: Overall graduation rate for both students who switch to their final major as juniors or seniors, and for those who declare a major earlier
  • 2.4: Average amount of majors Georgia State students declared before meta-major implication.
  • Sources: Georgia State University Office of Institutional Research analysis of 3,852 bachelor’s graduates during the 2008-09 academic year; Education Advisory Board

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