This editorial was originally published in The Ithacan on February 5, 2020. View the original.
If you are reading this as someone who knew their educational path from a young age, stuck with the same major for all four years and are excited to start a career in your area of study: congratulations!
That being said, you may have a friend who switched programs more than once, a peer you might have realized stopped attending the same classes as you or you noticed those around you picked up another major or minor. Maybe it was even once you who hesitated and reassessed your choice of major when reading a particularly lengthy syllabus.
As a high school student, I thought everyone around me knew exactly what they were doing. To me, the idea of deciding what to do seemingly for the rest of my life was daunting and confusing. I will be honest, I was overwhelmed. However, it is still largely expected of you to have made that massive life decision at 17 or 18 years old. How does that make any sense?
For context, roughly a third of students change their bachelor degree program in typical four-year institutions. This does not include students who have yet to declare — those students who are sitting there “undecided.” At Ithaca College, students who have yet to decide their major make up, give or take, 20% of their incoming class depending on the year. This is a large portion of a class that is not in their right major yet.
All I knew when looking over vast lists of majors, minors, concentrations and additional areas of study was that I did not know which one was right for me. There were hundreds of options. It was not that I was uninterested. It was that there were too many to choose from.
I had been visiting schools that had a lot of programs. I was searching for a level of flexibility, that way if I needed to hop from one program to the other, I would be able to. Still, this idea came with many limitations. I was told I would have to figure it out on my own — I would not be able to study abroad, and potentially, I would have to stay an extra year. When I stumbled upon the Exploratory Program, it was almost too good to be true.
The Exploratory Program is Ithaca College’s version of “undecided” except, it recognizes that you are exploring; you are on a journey to figure out the best path for you. It does not rush the milestone decision of declaring your major—instead, it provides up to sixty credits or two years of time to figure it out. Instead they provide additional resources, great faculty and peer support systems, and activities that all aim to help you narrow down the choice that is right for you.
As a graduating college senior, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my educational path. I speak so highly of this program because it has entirely shaped my college experience. Through guiding my first year experience, allowing me opportunities through volunteer positions and internship opportunities and for understanding that I was here to figure out what my passions really were, the Exploratory Program was a monumental aspect of my experience as a student at Ithaca College.
As my time with the program ends, I am excited to see it continue to grow under the new leadership of Maria DiFrancesco. It will continue to be a wonderful home to those who need it.
I hope that even if you did not directly interact with the program, you take on its core value with you—there is so much out there waiting for you to explore.