Delaying major choice would improve core curriculum, graduation rates

Sid Sridhar

At UT, we choose our majors before we even step on campus. Those of us who don’t get into the major we want or enter at UT without one in mind are labeled by the Registrar as undecided or undeclared, giving the impression that everyone ought to be sure of their career path before they even toss their high-school graduation cap.

But if  UT were to do best by its students, it would allow everyone to enter without a major and to declare at the end of their first or second year, after students have been given a chance to explore their options.

Admittedly, this plan may not be feasible for students in packed and highly structured degree plans, such as those offered by the Cockrell School of Engineering or the McCombs School of Business. However, considering the purpose of a liberal arts education, the College of Liberal Arts should certainly take this suggestion seriously. For one, delaying major choice would allow the university to place the core curriculum at the forefront of the freshman experience. The core curriculum, after all, should serve as the foundation of every degree on campus (but far too often serves as a reason to take courses at the last-minute and outside of UT). Even though the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board determines 12 out of our 14 core courses, the University tacks on additional requirements, mandating  programs like skills flags, which ensure that students graduate prepared for civic life. Moving the Core to the beginning of the college experience and improving upon programs like the Flags program, we could greatly improve the quality of the education we receive at UT.

Another relevant effect of delaying major choice would be to improve four-year graduation rates. The Final Report of the Task Force on Graduation Rates notes that only about 37 percent of students stick to their original major choice. Among those who change majors, those who switch more than twice are over 15 percentage points less likely to graduate in four years. Assistant Dean of Advising at the Center for Strategic Advising and Career Counseling at the School of Undergraduate Studies David Spight wrote in an article in Academic Advising Today that delaying major choice can reduce the number of changes in major students make anywhere from between 13 and 38 percent.

Asking students to choose their major so soon runs counter to the spirit of a liberal arts education and prevents students from graduating on time. We shouldn’t frame new students’ understanding of a college education in the perspective of the major with which they enter. Rather, we should ensure that new students have a full understanding of the breadth of choices they have before them.

Sridhar is a Plan II, math and economics sophomore from Sugar Land.