Although the uncertain job market has undergraduates declaring majors early at some schools, most Penn students are still open to academic exploration.
A recent analysis by The Wall Street Journal of colleges within the United States found that students are declaring majors earlier. According to the study, this trend indicates that today’s undergraduates are more focused on pursuing courses of study that lead directly to specific careers than exploring their options or learning for learning’s sake.
At Penn, however, this isn’t necessarily the case. Many departments, including Biology, Urban Studies, English, Economics and Fine Arts, report that their students are declaring majors along the same timeline that they have been for years.
Part of this is due to the prerequisites some majors impose upon students. Students who wish to major in economics, for example, must take two economics courses and one calculus course before declaring. The Philosophy, Politics and Economics major has even more rigorous requirements — students must complete eight major-related courses by the end of the semester in which they declare.
The general education requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences can limit early declaration as well.
“Trying to declare a major isn’t as important when you’re coming in as trying to fulfil necessary general requirements,” Undergraduate Coordinator for the Economics Department Lynn Costello said.
Many students who declare early at Penn do so for reasons contrasting with those found in The Wall Street Journal study; students who declared in their freshman year say they made the choice based on academic passion, not career aspirations.
“I wanted my freshman year to be an exploratory year and once that was done, I affirmed myself of what I was truly passionate about,” College freshman and economics major Pranay Kapoor said.
“It’s okay to know exactly what you want to do, and I didn’t doubt what I wanted to major in when I came in,” College freshman and history major Yasmeen Kaboud said. “All of the people saying ‘Oh, wait until your sophomore year, maybe you’ll find something else never changed my mind, ever.”
There are some benefits to declaring a major early — in departments like Economics, History and English, some course spots are given to majors before undeclared students. But department coordinators say that students who remain unsure about their course of study should not rush in declaring.
“You may change your mind a thousand times,” Costello said. “We have kids who have declared and then dropped or gone down to a minor.”
Exploring courses also allows students to discover departments they may have overlooked.
“It takes a while for students to find out about Urban Studies, unlike majors like history or english, which students have experienced in high school,” Co-Director of the Urban Studies Program Elaine Simon said. “Usually, students take an URBS course, they have an epiphany, and that leads them to us.”
Regardless of whether they declare early or not, many College students feel their undergraduate studies are more than a path to a job.
“There are a lot of different things I could do with a history major," Kaboud said, "but I think it’s more important to major in something you’re passionate about than something you see leading to a career path."
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