Fork in the road

Every college has its share of “super seniors,” and USF is no exception. The University has such an abundance of these students that there is a popular alternative meaning for its initials: “U Stay Forever”

A “super senior” is defined as a student who graduates anytime after the standard

There are numerous reasons why some students stay in school past the four-year mark. A student may still be earning the required amount of credits, may be pursuing more than one degree or may just want to stay in college longer than four years.

One of the most common reasons for this occurrence, however, is that undergraduate students change majors and need to earn additional credits for their new major.

Vince Solomon, a senior pre-med major, is on the slow-track to graduation. He started out as an engineering major in 2005, claiming he was still unsure of his occupational goal. As he reached his senior year, he felt the time was right to change his major.

“I could do the work, but I couldn’t see myself doing it as a career,” Solomon said.

After taking his last engineering course during the 2008 summer semester, Solomon decided to change to his pre-med major. Luckily, many of the classes Solomon took during his previous years were pre-requisite courses for pre-med, yet he will not be graduating with the other seniors of his class.

“I’m going to split-up my summer and fall semesters for the 25 credits I still need to graduate,” he said.

When asked if he knew other “super seniors” currently attending USF, Solomon said, “Yeah, I know a lot.”

Not all of these seniors shared a similar academic career path. Majors that were switched range from business to biomedical science.

“It’s hard to find something you’re good at,” Solomon said. “I feel like you have to wait until your sophomore year; you’re not mature enough in your freshman year. But I guess it’s probably a good idea that they make you choose a major as a freshman, because if you choose as a junior you’ll have less time to make concrete plans.”

In addition, Solomon said that he did not believe that being a “super senior” held him back, and that at 21, he is young for a senior.

“If I was still majoring in engineering I would be in a five-year plan. So in a way changing majors got me ahead if you think about it,” he said.

English adviser Joyce Karpay agreed that changing one’s major can be beneficial.

“Part of college is discovering what you enjoy and what you have an aptitude for,”
she said.

In fact, a study conducted by the USF Office of Decision Support shows that students who have changed their major have about twice the graduation rate of students who
have not.

Karpay and Solomon both offered some additional counsel for prospective “super seniors” and students who are considering changing their majors.

Karpay advised students to “absolutely research their possibilities” when considering majors.

“At this University, we have a lot of resources: advisors, people within professions, and people within the career center,” Karpay said. “Use those resources as much as possible.”

“Have a plan, so you are not just taking and paying for classes needlessly,” Solomon said. “Really sit down and think about it. Go out and look at the working world and decide on something that you’d want to achieve.”

It’s not just Solomon who is encouraging students to go with their gut. Career Center director Drema Howard said that passion is one of the most important factors in achieving a successful career.

“If students change their major based on what they have a strong interest in, that is critical,” she said. “Make sure to commit to a career you can enjoy. That kind of fulfillment will only help the strength of your career.”

Howard cautioned, however, that just because a student enjoys something doesn’t mean it is a viable career option.

“You can have a strong passion for playing a musical instrument, but that doesn’t mean you have the skill to make a living off of it,” she said. “You can still do those sort of things as a hobby, but it is important to focus on a career that is realistic.”

Students who stay in college for an extended period trying to find a career that is right for them should make sure to use that time taking courses that can put toward any career option, Howard said.

“The market is always changing. Five years from now, there will be careers available that no one has ever heard of,” she said. “While students are trying to find their way, they should take courses that improve critical thinking skills, problem solving skills and people skills. Those things will always be necessary in the business world, and you’ve got to make sure that you make yourself adaptable to the changing world.”

For those too afraid to enter the market during a time of economic hardship, Howard said there is no need to panic.

“Despite what people may say, there are plenty of jobs out there,” she said. “There is no need to be more afraid now than at any other time. Waiting two or three years won’t help — you have to jump into the job market eventually.”

Additional reporting by Matt Ferrara.