On respecting academics: Major-shaming devalues student efforts

Choosing a major is one of the biggest decisions that incoming freshmen have to make in college. The process is often a source of stress for students due to the social implication that this decision is what determines a person’s future income level and job security. The idea that certain majors will unquestionably lead to a better job or a happier future is inaccurate and can be damaging to students’ confidence in a multitude of ways. According to Penn State Division of Undergraduate Studies, 50-80 percent of college students choose a major when entering college. Additionally, approximately 75 percent of those who choose a major upon arrival at college change that major throughout the course of their studies.

Many scholars have tried to understand why such an abundance of students struggle to choose the right major for them when they first enter college. One supported explanation for this is that students feel an immense amount of pressure from their parents or high school community to plan their futures early. They tend to choose certain majors that are deemed more impressive or respected by society––not necessarily the career path in which they would personally excel. This is a valid reason as to why many students change from their initial major.

Leighann Camarero’s 2013 WAMC Northeast Public Radio article “When it comes to choosing a major, college students feel the pressure,” emphasizes that, “Another factor impacting a student’s ability to choose a major that hopefully leads to a fulfilling career is the pressure to do so from society, peers and often parents.” It is extremely upsetting that young adults feel they cannot pursue their true passions in college because of society’s tendency to glorify certain careers and shame others.

Unfortunately, this unfair imposition does not end after a student’s decision to major in a certain subject. Once students commit to a course of study, many continue to experience unnecessary scrutiny. A term that has received attention from many college campus publications is “major shaming.” Major shaming refers to the way college students often make each other feel academically inadequate by insulting each other’s majors.

One reoccurring example of major shaming is students claiming that certain majors are “easier” than others. This type of allegation is completely baseless, as the difficulty of a course is relative to the student completing it. Furthermore, the need to put down others for the work they choose is unacceptable––regardless of whether someone is joking with friends or saying it to someone’s face. Many students dread being asked, “So, what are you studying?” because they fear the assumptions others will make about them based on their major.

Different majors should not be viewed as competing entities, but rather unique and separate fields of study. Creating an academic community that celebrates all majors will give students the confidence they need to pursue a career that best suits them—instead of one that society claims is most admirable.

The issue of major shaming cannot continue to be a norm of campus life; its ability to cause students to question themselves and to feel unsure about their futures can add even more stress to their undergraduate career. Every student pursuing a college degree has an equal right to be successful and to pursue a career that they love. Stepping back and realizing that it takes all kinds of majors to make up a college campus—and the American work force—is crucial to a college community.