Here's the scientific way students choose a major at MIT, the best college in America

For many college students, it’s sometimes nerve-racking to decide exactly what to study. While some students apply to college with certainty of what they’d like to major in, others take two or three semesters to make a decision.

We recently named the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the best college in America.

With five schools of study — Architecture and Planning; Engineering; Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Management; and Science — and 49 majors to chose from, MIT appeals to more than the future scientist or budding tech genius.

But how do students at the top school in the US choose their majors?

Allan Ko, a student MIT admissions blogger, recently wrote about an experiment that he and two fellow students conducted to explore the process MIT students endure to choose a major.

“This is a process that we think is universal to college students everywhere, not just at MIT — we are just trying to make sense of who we are and what we care about learning,” Ko said in an email to Business Insider. “Choosing a major is a formal declaration of what you value and what you want to learn, and is therefore fraught with complication.”

Ko and his teammates, Alyssa Smith and Aaron Suarez, first sat down with 15 students to talk about the responsibilities, reputations, and stereotypes of different majors at MIT. They quickly discovered that students’ majors became a part of their self-identity on campus.

“Each person — each story — is different and represents a highly personal process, reflecting questions like ‘what do I want to do with my life?’ or ‘what am I truly passionate about?’ or ‘how best can I make the world better with my skills?'” Ko said.

They decided to dig deeper, and asked a larger group of students the following questions:

1. Once upon a time, I thought I would be [what major? undecided?]

2. I will be graduating as [what major? still don’t know?]

3. This major is [big? small? skip this question?]

4. Most people know what this major is. [True? False? Skip this question?]

5. People in my major are [coders? problem-solvers? makers and builders? humanities? skip this question?]

6. Tell us more. [optional note card]

The answers were then plotted on a large piece of plywood with nails and yarn to demonstrate the path that each student takes in their major-choosing and self-identifying journey at MIT.

Ko said the project wasn’t just a discussion of how students choose their majors. It also became a discussion of how students make sense of their own identities
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