How MOOCs Can Help You Choose a Major
Figure out what topics you’re passionate about with free online classes.
By Christopher Geno
Colleges know that choosing a major is a big step in a student’s life. That’s why most colleges, from UC Berkeley to the University of Rochester, don’t require students to declare their major until well after their first year of college. While specific departments (like Engineering) may require you to choose a major early, liberal arts students often don’t need to declare until their junior year.
Most students use general education requirements and elective courses to explore topics they're interested in. They use these classes and their own existing academic interests to choose a major.
Most students use general education requirements and elective courses to explore topics they're interested in. They use these classes and their own existing academic interests to choose a major. But with the surge in popularity of Massive Open Online Courses, savvy students are turning to MOOCs to figure our how to choose a major.
The Plight of Billy the High School Student
Let’s invent a student named Billy. It’s summer and Billy is an incoming freshman to college. He liked writing, literature and all the humanities in high school, but he’s kind of interested in computers. He thinks the Internet is awesome, and wants to know if maybe computer science is right for him.
Before the advent of MOOCs, Billy would have to go to college and sign up for a computer science class. This is fine, but it will cost him in tuition and time. If he doesn’t like it or finds it too difficult, he’ll have to drop the class quickly or it will affect his GPA. He might miss out on other classes and Intro to Computer Science might not even fit into his schedule.
These days, all Billy needs to do is sign up for a MOOC before he even starts college and see how he enjoys the subject. Lucky for Billy, computer science is the most common MOOC topic available. He can take such courses at:
In fact, Billy can take computer science courses from renowned professors at Stanford, Harvard, MIT and about a dozen more famous colleges totally free! If he likes the class, he can try taking more in college. If he doesn’t like it, now he doesn’t have to waste valuable time and money his first semester.
MOOCs can help students already in college.
Lucia is already in college. In fact, she already has a lot of college credit. Her college wants students to declare their major when they’ve completed 60 credits and Lucia is almost there. She doesn’t know whether to major in French or history and wants to take a few more classes to figure out her major, but doesn’t want to go over credit limits.
So while Lucia is taking a French class, she also signs up for a free MOOC on world history. She decides she likes history the best and chooses it for her major. Lucia was able to figure out which major she wanted before going over credit limits and being forced to choose one. It was also cheaper than taking both classes at her college.
By using MOOCs, Billy, Lucia, and you have a cheap, effective way to gauge your interest in any particular topic. And since MOOCs are university-level courses taught by real professors, you will get a better understanding of the workload and commitment necessary for every class you take.