Every student at UT should have the freedom and time to determine the academic pathway that is right for them. Studies have shown that giving students more time to develop their interests before choosing their major leads to higher graduation rates.
This insight informs the mission of the School of Undergraduate Studies, which allows “undeclared” students to explore and hone their interests without having to know exactly what they want to study. UGS students don’t have to declare their major until the end of their fourth semester at UT.
Meanwhile, from day one on the Forty Acres, most UT students immediately begin the task of fulfilling their prescribed major requirements –– oftentimes before they have clarity on what academic pathway is best suited to their interests and goals.
In order to support students in fully developing their areas of interests, all students should begin their journey as undeclared within their college.
UGS director Lara Harlan said 83% of all students in Texas colleges will change their major at least once in their college career.
In contrast, Jeff Handy, director of the Vicks Center for Strategic Advising housed in UGS, said around 90% of UGS students stick with their chosen discipline once they have declared their major.
Outside of UGS, transfers typically happen within colleges rather than between colleges. Internal transfers are logistically less difficult given that majors within colleges generally have overlapping requirements.
However, the internal transfer process is still stressful, difficult to navigate and could be avoided, given that the majority of students are not satisfied with their initial major choice.
Providing students space to experiment academically without committing to a major makes sense to a lot of students who want to avoid unnecessary administrative hurdles, including Will Schweizer, a Plan II and exercise science junior. Schweizer switched his major twice before landing on exercise science during his sophomore year.
“I think (it) would leave more doors open for the potential of switching to what you want because, at the end of the day, this is what you are going to be doing, hopefully, for the rest of your life,” Schweizer said. “So, I think it is really important that you study what you want.”
Many universities are moving to an admissions and major model that promotes discovery in students’ early academic pathway. The University of California, Berkeley only requires students in certain colleges to declare their major before they have 75 units. Students at the University of Washington must wait until they have completed 105 credits and five quarters to declare their major.
This system would take into account Longhorns’ generally limited initial awareness of the majors and career pathways available to them at UT. Handy said that despite the 100+ majors available to UT undergraduates, high school students usually apply to only a handful of them.
“Students coming out of high school are really just guessing at what they want to do,” Handy said. “This is not to say anything negative about them; that is just what the circumstances are. But there is a lot to learn, and there is a lot that (they) don’t know exists.”
By doing away with direct-to-specific major admissions and admitting students to colleges instead, UT will offer students crucial time to create the academic and career pathway that is truly right for them –– the first time.
Strelitz-Block is a Plan II sophomore from Austin, Texas.