College is a thrilling yet nerve-wracking phase in a student’s life. With endless possibilities at their fingertips, they are at the same time confronted with the daunting task of discovering what they want to do with their future.
After hearing countless stories from individuals who feel that they were not given the chance to explore their interests to the fullest, or did but struggled to find their way, I was inspired to develop Pathways.
My goal is to equip college students with the necessary tools and confidence to make informed decisions that aid in their personal development. Ultimately, even if it does not turn out to be the best four years of their life, I aspire to help make college a fulfilling experience for students and at the very least, a great four years of their life.
Students don't know what to expect when going to college and don't receive adequate guidance and support, causing them to be more stressed or unhappy than they need to be to achieve their goals.
People generally also tend to want to base their choices off of the experiences of others and students are no different. But information on forums isn’t super comprehensive, and a lot of students only know a few people at the school they’re going to.
So lot of their major decisions end up being based on either limited information or limited points of view and students often eventually realize that what they had picked…wasn’t actually right for them.
My primary hypothesis
I first talked to college graduates to see what they enjoyed about their college experiences and what they wished had gone differently. I then turned to current college students to better understand present-day experiences
Below is a compilation of questions I asked during these interviews.
What did you think college in general was going to be like when you were in high school?
How did you come to these conclusions?
What did you think your college specifically was going to be like, were there any things you assumed?
Did you do anything to prepare for college life before you went?
Did you know anyone at your school before you went or did you have any college students that you talked to when you were a high schooler?
Can you tell me a bit about what you planned to study, what you actually studied, and other things you did while at college?
What was your social life like at college?
Where did you make friends, did you feel like there were any groups where you were able to find a sense of community?
What did you find, if anything, to be difficult about your college experience?
What did you love about your college experiences?
What did you want to get out of college by going?
Is there anything you wish you had known before going to college?
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in college?
Was there anything else you would have wanted from your college environment that you feel like you weren’t able to get?
What did you do when you were struggling? What resources were available to you?
I learned that students are academically prepared to be accepted to a school but often have an inaccurate idea of what their actual experience at the school will be like. Moreover, many students don’t feel emotionally and socially prepared to navigate their college experience, especially without the support system they left behind at home.
“Freshman year I did apply for a couple of clubs. Realized it was very competitive to even get into certain clubs. I think after getting rejected from a couple, it was a bit demoralizing."
“I thought I’d have the chance to take a bunch of different classes and explore my interests but all the intro level classes are weed-out classes for things like pre-med.”
“My school didn’t really offer that much creative stuff. There’s no digital or design or UX in my school. I should have thought about what kind of school I’m going to before going to it and actually think about potential stuff I’d want to explore.”
Students often feel obligated to have it all figured out when they have no idea what to do. This often causes them to go along with what others are doing or have done, instead of taking the time to explore their interests.
“The first quarter you learn about all the degree requirements all the majorrequirements, how to graduate on time, etc. It can be quite stressful. I didn’tfeel like I was given the opportunity to just not worry about anything and pickwhatever classes I’m interested in for the next year or two.”
“I came to Northwestern for material science, not knowing what it is. I think that’s one of the biggest things about selecting a major before you even came to the school, I had no idea what material science is, what the classes are like. I just read like two pages of the brochure from NU engineering, applied for the program, and got in.”
“I think, part of it was probably that I was just influenced by other people because everyone at my school they go in and were just like ‘oh, let me doe economics, let me do this certificate’ and I was like oh I’ll just do that too.”
It is extremely common for students to use the experiences of their peers and alumni as a reference point when deciding what to study in college. Various factors, such as personal interests and career opportunities, can influence these decisions.
“There was actually one other girl who went from my high school was at Northwestern for that major.
She was doing really cool things that were of my interest... so I figured, oh, it makes sense for me to at least try to do the same major so that I can maybe have an opening for those similar opportunities.”
“For the first quarter of school, at least, we had like weekly catch ups with our PA group. So we learned about each other’s experiences.”
“Throughout the years in college...you can accidentally get peer pressured and just follow what other people do.”
A large part of the process involved continuing to better understand both user behavior and needs. The following assumptions were explored through both user-interviews and secondary research in an effort to learn more about how students feel when they encounter certain kinds of information.