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Coronavirus pandemic impacts field-of-study decisions for Penn State freshmen

First Day of Classes, Hand Sanitizers

A near-empty hallway, normally packed with students during the change between classes, is equipped with hand sanitizing stations outside of each classroom in the Thomas Building on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020.

Some Penn State freshmen said the coronavirus pandemic impacted their decisions when choosing a college major — either through personal revelations or financial considerations.

For Alex Butzle, the pandemic and online learning allowed him to realize he can teach himself more than he thought he could by working on his own.

Butzler (freshman-biochemistry and molecular biology) said besides the fact biochemistry and molecular biology are “interesting stuff,” he realized the major will allow him to improve his individual skills through independent lab work.

“I’ve learned to appreciate working alone and being able to not have to rely on a group of people to come to an educational improvement,” Butzler said.

Julia Botto is another student who was affected by a completely different work environment.

“I haven’t been trying as hard in school lately, so I feel like the work [in my field] will be too hard for me,” Botto (freshman-kinesiology) said.

Because she “hasn’t adjusted” to in-person college-level learning yet, Botto said she is planning to change her major to political science — as she said she became interested in politics during the pandemic.

Botto said she feels her work ethic has weakened during the pandemic and does not feel her high school prepared her well enough for college.

Other students said the pandemic has caused them to rethink their studies from a financial perspective.

Andrea Gandhi started out at Penn State studying both dance and engineering.

Gandhi (freshman-engineering) said the performing industry “declined” because of the pandemic, and she watched professional dancers she knew struggling during the pandemic — which caused her to focus on engineering for a more “stable” job after college.

“[The pandemic] opened my eyes,” Gandhi said. “You should be able to support yourself in a career.”

Some students said they felt the pandemic changed their perspective on healthcare — pushing them either toward or away from the field.

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For student Evan Krut, the effect was the latter.

“The pandemic showed me that doctors in the medical field are more interested in making money than keeping people healthy,” Krut (freshman-biology) said.

Krut said he thinks during the pandemic, doctors were pushing the “wrong things” and not emphasizing strongly enough the positive effects of exercising and eating right — or the “simple solutions.”

He said it would have made more sense to combat the illnesses and conditions that make people more susceptible to the coronavirus’ symptoms — such as high blood pressure and obesity, in his opinion.

“I actually don’t know if I’ll stick with biology now,” Krut said.

The pandemic motivated other Penn State students to become involved in medicine.

Morgan DeLong intended to become a realtor before the pandemic, but then, she changed course to study sports medicine.

The coronavirus pandemic caused DeLong (freshman-athletic training and sports medicine) to incorporate medicine into her studies, but she still wanted to incorporate her “love for sports” — as she is a competitive ski racer and soccer player.

Another student, Audrey Hiller, said she was “pushed further toward” pursuing medicine because of the pandemic as well.

Hiller (freshman-veterinary and biomedical sciences) said she was planning on studying to be a veterinarian but was not able to participate in internships or co-op opportunities at her high school before she came to Penn State because of the pandemic — which was a “little hiccup” in her career.

However, seeing how there is such a demand for her field, Hiller said she decided to continue to pursue her major.

“Now that I’m here and seeing how swamped the vet clinics are, it has kind of pushed me further down that major as opposed to making me change it.”

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