The life of a student can be divided into three questions that separate the different phases of their education. It all starts in elementary school with, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In our youth, a question this innocent would prompt dreams of becoming astronauts, presidents and even princesses. When it evolved to the more serious “where are you going to college?” in middle and high school, the question started to lose its innocence.
Today, the similar question, “what’s your major?” might generate adverse reactions in some college students — stress, anxiety, confusion and general distress. Some students know their exact major before stepping onto a college campus, but for others, the answer might be daunting because they think a major de nes their future. The University of Richmond offers advising services and a wide range of undergraduate majors in order to make the path of nding the right major less intimidating.
UR currently offers sixty undergraduate majors, a variety of concentrations and the ability to combine interests and majors across the School of Arts and Science, Jepson School of Leadership and the Robins School of Business. The liberal arts education the university provides allows students to take classes across all three schools despite what their “home” school is. A liberal arts education can further help students discover their major by requiring that they take classes outside their established interests. It also becomes useful when taking into account that today’s college students will change jobs an estimated six to nine times, and career fields as much as three times.
“For [major discovery], the benefits of a liberal arts education include the wide array of career opportunities and elds of study available,” Erin Lowery, a career services advisor, said. “Most career paths are not linear or major specific, so liberal arts students can pursue almost any career option, provided they start exploring and gaining experience early.”
A recent study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities concluded that 93 percent of employers agree that a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major. All these skills and capacities are obtained with a liberal arts education. Despite the advantages of a liberal arts education, deciding on a major is still daunting to some.
Academic advisors, professors, deans and the Career Services center all provide tools for major discovery. For example, when a student is unsure of their major, Career Services has a number of resources designed to help them. “A student can schedule a career advising appointment through SpiderConnect, and this is the best way for us to talk with a student one-on-one about their unique circumstances, experiences, interests, goals, questions and uncertainties,” Lowery said. After this, career advisors can recommend specific programs, resources, assessments or other steps that will most help them. “When students come to see us during their first year, we can help them start making progress and exploring their options early,” she said.
When a student declares a major, they are placed with an academic advisor that will provide reliable support until the end of their undergraduate education. The path of declaring a major is not the same for every student. Students can change majors well into their sophomore or even junior year, declare a new minor, drop a major and even switch schools. In reality, a student’s path toward a degree is their own and can undergo all sorts of twists and turns. Adriana Ramirez, an incoming senior, changed majors five times. In the course of three years, she has studied graphic design, political science, international studies and communications, visual arts and has finally declared her major in international studies with a concentration in development. “The liberal arts education really helped me gure out my specific interest and, most importantly, the professors more than anything really helped me in finding what is — hopefully — my last major,” she said.
The most popular majors at Richmond are, in respective order: business administration, accounting, leadership studies, biology, psychology, political science, biochemistry and molecular biology, international studies, PPEL (philosophy, politics, economics & law) and healthcare studies. Today’s students are combining popular majors with minors, concentra- tions and even opting to double major as they feel some majors and minors are complementary to each other. Or, often, they choose to pursue another major or minor out of curiosity or passion, but not necessarily with a plan to make a career out of them.
Despite the wide range of majors UR offers, undergraduate students are not evenly distributed across majors and schools. There are some gender and racial disparities of major preference across the three schools and stereotypes that can influence students’ major choice. The business school, as of 2015-2016 data, is comprised of 60 percent men and a white majority. The numbers are consistent with the university’s top two undergraduate majors and racial makeup–74 percent white or unknown. The top-ranked Robins School of Business attracts many prospective students to the University and the majors themselves provide students the idea of job security and success, even when it might not be necessarily true.
In the other spectrum, The Leadership and Arts and Sciences schools boast a higher female enrollment, with 57 percent and 54 percent respectively. The majority of undergraduate students call the School of Arts and Sciences their home school. But in recent years, the Jepson School of Leadership has undergone an upward trend in enrollment despite the stereotypical question that accompanies the major: “what are you going to do with it?” Each major and school has a disproportionality and stereotype — nevertheless, they are not meant to be seen as a barrier for pursuing a major. Isabella Gomez, a senior majoring in economics from Venezuela, does not feel the gender or even racial disproportionality that the statistics portray. “I find the [Robins School of Business] supports and provides equal opportunities to all students, so I don’t necessarily feel at a disadvantage because of my race or gender,” she said.
Choosing a major is not an easy decision, but it’s important to clarify that choosing one specific major will not dictate a student’s future — it will simply help shape it, and will in no way limit their learning and discovery of other subjects and career elds. Declaring a major, whether a student is entering as a freshman or is long into their junior year, is not a task that should be met with dread and fear since the university does an excellent job of helping its students reach their goals each step of the way.