AerospaceFan
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Undeclared: Should It Be The Norm?

Tue Apr 04, 2006 11:22 am

Have you ever wondered why everyone who goes to a traditional college has to declare their major in order to be graduated? I think that the justification sometimes given is that you can't just putter around dabbling at things in life, and that you have to more or less specialize in something eventually.

However, that seems to run up against the idea of a liberal education, where, essentially, you are encouraged to be exposed to everything that the university has to offer in order to be a more "well rounded" individual.

I'm sure there is a good reason that every college student is expected to declare a major before long. But I can't really remember what it is.

Should status as "undeclared" be the norm rather than the exception?

Just wondering.  

[Edited 2006-04-04 04:23:33]
What's fair is fair.
 
redngold
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RE: Undeclared: Should It Be The Norm?

Tue Apr 04, 2006 12:24 pm

The problem with "undeclared" is that in some colleges it forces you into a narrower set of programs if you must complete your education in four years.

For example, in 1992 when I started at University of Delaware, they had two degrees available in many College of Arts and Sciences programs: Bachelor of Science (intensive) and Bachelor of Arts (focused.)

Here's how it went:
If you were getting a Bachelor of Arts, you were limited to no more than 60 credits in your major area of study, and you were required to take 12-14 credits in other group areas such as Natural Science, Arts & Humanities, History, and Empirical studies of culture.
If you were getting a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Music, the department decided how many credits you had to take within your major, and your group area requirements were lowered accordingly. Most of these programs required sequential study that could only be completed in four years if started during freshman year.

I started, from day one, in the Bachelor of Music in Music Education (BMME) program. Because I had taken A.P. courses in high school, I had a little bit of leeway in my group requirements and freshman music theory, and my foreign language requirement was completed. Out of 17 credits in my first semester, 9 of them were in music - but if I had been taking the freshman music theory courses, I would have taken 14 credits in music. My second semester, out of seventeen credits I took 14 in music. My third semester (fall of sophomore year), I took 16 credits - all in music. During my fourth semester, I took 14 credits in music and 3 in education - all directly related to my major.

It was after that semester that I decided I needed to get out of the BMME program and go into the B.A. in Music program, so that I could take pre-med courses. My parents made it clear that a fifth year was financially out of the question, even though it would have allowed me to get a dual BMME/BA degree.

In doing so, I left myself with a total of two classes (3 credits each) remaining to complete the B.A. in Music major requirements. The BMME program was so intense that the study leading to a B.A. was, for the most part, finished in two years - exactly as I had done it.

If I had been undeclared for my first year, I could have done the B.A. that I finished - but in all likelyhood, not the two minors that I added on. There's no way that I could have finished the BMME in four years if I hadn't started the major requirements in the first semester.

I wish more colleges would allow undeclared students more leeway to finish any major program in four years... but I don't think that's going to happen.
Up, up and away!
 
AerospaceFan
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RE: Undeclared: Should It Be The Norm?

Tue Apr 04, 2006 12:32 pm

That's quite a story, Redngold. I think that the time element of getting your degree is a major (so to speak) reason that students are encouraged to go beyond experimenting with what they like and commit to a program of study. The alternative would be to risk running out of time -- and funds -- before you can complete any kind of degree at all.
What's fair is fair.
 
ctbarnes
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RE: Undeclared: Should It Be The Norm?

Tue Apr 04, 2006 1:39 pm

Quoting AerospaceFan (Thread starter):
Have you ever wondered why everyone who goes to a traditional college has to declare their major in order to be graduated? I think that the justification sometimes given is that you can't just putter around dabbling at things in life, and that you have to more or less specialize in something eventually.

Actually you can. It's called a general studies BA

That being said, a university has two goals (well, OK, 2 1/2):

1. Teach you how to think and function in the world
2. Prepare you for a career (or at least pique your interest in one-that's the 1/2

The former goal is usually covered by the school's core curriculum. This set of courses gives you the opporutnity to try a lot of different stuff, but also provides you with the ability to formulate and ask questions about the world around you from a variety of standpoints, Humanities, sciences, mathmatics, theology/religious studies (if it is a religious-sponsored school). The trick is to take that and apply those things to a career or specialized coruse of study.

The reason declaring a major is so adventatgeous is it gives you the opportunity to explore an area in greater depth you become interested in (or didn't think you would become interested in). It also shows you how to apply what you learn in the core to a specialized discipline. It does not necessarily tie you down to one particular route (the average student changes his or her major 3-4 times in the course of four years). It also sets a trajectory if you have wider goals such as studying medicine or law.

My take on universities it's kind of a "life laboratory" where you can try things out not just academically, but socially and practically. It gives you confidence when things go well, and you have the space to make mistakes and not have it be seriously fatal. At least that's the insight three years of teaching at a university gave me...

Charles, SJ
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