Written by Joseph Rauch, writer at SkilledUp.
Have you decided on your major? If so, great! However, you won’t actually know what it will be like until you take a course.
Only a few years ago, there was no practical way of testing the water before stepping onto campus. Students had to take a somewhat blind leap and hope the courses in their majors would live up to their expectations and fulfill their passion. If they didn’t, oh well. There went a huge chunk of their money and at least a year of their lives.
Students do have the option of entering college with an undeclared major. However, this means they run the risk of wasting time and money by sampling in-person courses in an effort to figure out their major. For example, a student could spend hundreds of dollars and an entire semester on an introductory economics course only to discover the field wasn’t right for them.
Now things are different. Thanks to the rise of Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs] and their respective providers, incoming college freshman have a way to test drive their major for free online instead of discovering whether they like it after they’ve already registered.
MOOCs attempt to offer as much of the college course experience as possible from the comfort of your home computer. Each one has video lectures, class materials such as slides, quizzes, and assignments, and the option of reaching out to professors and fellow students for feedback and answers to important questions. You can take them on a schedule or sign up for self-paced, archived courses, which will limit your interactivity but still offer the same information.
These courses are a smart way of planning ahead so you don’t end up with the wasted investment in a major that did not live up to your expectations. MOOCs also help high schoolers affirm their interests and prepare for their majors before entering college.
“I’ve always been pretty interested in programming, but I had never had a lot of exposure to it,” said Florida high school senior David Cooney. “Through Coursera and a few entry level programming courses, I was able to get a better understanding of what computer science was like. I’m applying to a few schools in Florida and to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with my intended major being computer science.”
Cooney is one of millions of online course takers who have used Coursera, which people in ed tech often refer to as one of the “Big Three” MOOC providers. There are also older students who take MOOCs and look back on the issue of choosing a college major with a nuanced perspective, wishing they had once enjoyed the option of testing the water with free resources.
“When I decided on my major, I was extending my high school interests, most often created by a teacher who had made an impact,” said Thomas Johnson, an avid MOOC taker in his 50s and Germanic studies scholar, as he described his college years. “Bad mistake. I went all the way through pre-lims and was writing a dissertation before I awoke to my actual interests. My excuse is simple: I was making these decisions before the digital information age.”
Johnson also recommends using Quora, a curated online forum that allows you to pose questions and receive answers from a community.
“So my advice is simple: examine which Quora topics get you interested or intrigued. Then take a free MOOC to see if the academic approach to that topic still works. Then go for it at the very best school you can find to match your skills and abilities,” he said.
Granted, this advice may not be for everyone. If you have no idea what your interests are, college can be a great place to discover that so long as you can afford it.
Still, it’s clear that MOOCs are one way to test drive your major, discover new interests, and perhaps even give yourself an advantage over other freshman. Most of them are free. So, the worst case scenario is that you’ll waste a few hours of your life as opposed to hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on the wrong major.
Joseph Rauch is a Writer who graduated with a degree in psychology and creative writing from NYU. He writes for SkilledUp and has published pieces with The Huffington Post, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, FindSpark, The Halo Group, and many more publications.