This story written by a student at a prominent midwestern liberal arts school is worth taking seriously:
My senior year of high school, I used to tell extended family and curious teachers that I was going to major in English or French or maybe anthropology. I loved reading and learning about people and was sick to death of math and science…
…I hesitantly enrolled in a lab science the fall of my second year. A few weeks into that intro psych course, I declared a psychology major with a neuroscience concentration.
Most 18-year-olds are uncertain about their career paths, and many who think they are certain are going to change their minds, anyway. That’s why it’s so important to prepare for anything in high school, particularly for careers that require strong math and science backgrounds.
The student who told the above story was able to make the switch to neuroscience because she had eaten her math and science broccoli in high school and was ready for anything she might encounter in college.
Contrast the story of the liberal arts student with the story of the second-year creative writing major who showed up in my office several years ago and wanted to switch to physics. The key question in these conversations is this: What was your last math course, and when did you take it? The answer the creative writing major gave me was Algebra 2, in the sophomore year of high school. I had to tell the student that he was facing five more years of college to complete a bachelor’s degree in physics, and that his prospects for success in that academic program were very uncertain. Not surprisingly, I never saw this student again.
Every university-bound student should keep open the option of majoring in a STEM field in college by taking a strong math and science program – including physics and calculus – in high school. It just doesn’t make sense to make a decision at the age of 15 that can eliminate these career paths.