Today, the Class of 2009 will breathe a collective sigh of relief as the deadline for major declaration passes. While declaring a major only requires a student to get an advisor’s signature on a declaration form, deciding on what to major in is not quite so easy.
“I think the hardest aspect of deciding on a major is the fact that your major choices are often limited by what classes you took freshman year,” said Joan Bosco ’09, a biology and English double major. “If you don’t come into college [with] somewhat of an idea and get on your major track right away, it may be difficult to catch up with the requirements.”
The requirement-free curriculum can sometimes contribute to sophomores’ distress in February.
“It’s easy to just drift and take random classes in various concentrations and then have trouble choosing or meeting the requirements for a certain major,” Bosco said.
On the other hand, Claire Kaplan ’09, a neuroscience and mathematics double major, feels that her concern about fulfilling the requirements for the programs she is interested in prevented her from branching out academically.
“[I had to decide] to take intro bio instead of maybe intro sociology or a drawing or poetry class. I made analogous decisions many times,” Kaplan said. “It’s kind of disheartening. I’m hoping I have more time for that stuff in the next two years than I have had so far.”
As of Feb. 1, 2007, the University’s five most popular departments were English, with 196 majors; Psychology, with 167; Government, with 140; Economics, with 136; and History, with 106. These have been among the school’s top five most common majors since 2002, when History overtook Sociology.
Double majors are becoming increasingly common at the University. According to the University Registrar, as of Feb. 1, 2002, there were 367 double majors. But by Feb. 1, 2007, double majors had increased to 500, with the school reporting increases in all but one of the previous five years. Current students provide many different reasons for making the decision to double major.
Lauren Barth ’09, for example, decided she wanted to major in government as well as psychology because she wanted a major that would allow her to take smaller classes but was unsure of what she wanted to do after graduation.
Professor Krishna Winston, chair of the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), speculates that career concerns may be a significant factor in the decision to double major.
“My perception is that quite a few students view the second major as a credential, something that will appear on their transcript to document extensive work in a second field,” Winston said.
Winston often suggests to her own advisees that they could show their transcripts to potential employers or professional school admission offers to show that they have the “equivalent of a minor” in a given subject.
While some subjects may lend themselves to a double major, such as physics and astronomy, or COL and a foreign language, in other cases double majoring can detract from a student’s intellectual development.
“When there is symbiosis between the two majors, doubling represents a thoughtful combination that both broadens and deepens a student’s program,” Winston said. “In other cases, completing two majors can monopolize almost two thirds of a student’s courses over four years without adding coherence and at the cost of breadth.”
Winston mentioned the possibility of bringing minors to the University in an EPC meeting this year, but said that the proposal received relatively lukewarm support.
“A change of this support would initially make considerable work for the departments and the Registrar,” she said. “Each department that offered a minor would have to define what courses went into it, and fulfillment would have to be monitored, just as fulfillment of majors is.”
With or without the option of minors, sophomores still feel the weight of the future bearing down on their choice of major.
“We’ve all decided to come to a liberal arts college, so we’re all kind of putting off the focusing-on-one-thing-forever-and-ever feeling for a while,” said Madeline Weiss ’09, a mathematics major. “But when you declare a major, you realize that there are certain doors that you are closing for your future, and you do need to settle down and do something with your life eventually. How weird!”