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Deciding, Major, Selecting/choosing, Major, Undecided, Declaring, Advising


DECIDING ON A MAJOR AT WESTERN Introduction Choosing a major has always been one of the major hurdles college students face. Currently, it may be even more problematic than usual. The decision retains its career and life planning implications, and there is some evidence that this is a time of relative indecision in this regard. Students report wanting more advising than they are getting; many report being at college without a definite idea why; there is less popular push to any one type of major than previously no 1980's panic to get into business, no 1970's stampede into professional schools, no 1960's drive to social relevance. Student fluctuations between majors is rapid and difficult to predict. As always, students change majors quite often during college, although Western faces the special difficulty that it does not influence the primary period of choice for about half its students: those who enter as transfers. At the same time, beginning a major has powerful meaning for many Western students. Previous assessment studies at Western have documented a dramatic increase in academic engagement (time spent studying; satisfaction with courses) when students move from GURs to a major. Similarly, many students feel they are not "making solid progress toward the degree" until they have chosen a major and are taking courses in the major (Simpson, Matson and Clark, forthcoming). In addition, political and economic pressures now embed each basic decision students make in a system of constraints and concerns about time-to-degree and efficient use of resources. The university has entertained the policy of requiring students to declare a major at a certain time, since delaying that choice cuts off many options because sequencing requirements cannot be met, and previous assessment studies at Western have demonstrated that delaying the major decision increases the overall time to degree as well as the number of credits accumulated on the way the degree. Students now give explicit attention to the time it takes to complete a degree when they choose a major. The university has been forced to respond to imbalances between students' desires for certain degrees and size of the faculty in those departments by imposing limits that perforce deny access to some students who wish these majors. The university has created an enrollment management group to examine issues of "efficiency." The Registrar has necessarily become more and more involved in developing ways to increase student access to courses in their majors. Assessment report concerning advising and a Provost's Taskforce on Advising at Western have focused in part on difficulties in reaching and advising students concerning their choice of majors. The Academic Coordinating Commission has proposed a new "general studies" major tailored for students who face difficulty gaining admission into one of the departmental majors. This flurry of policy activity and student concern around the issue of choosing a major makes obvious the value of more information on the process and timing of students' choice of major fields. The current report draws on some information from previous follow-up surveys of Western graduates and three 1994-95 "close-in" surveys of currently enrolled Western students to offer such information.




Digital object produced by Office of Survey Research, Western Washington University, and made available by University Archives, Heritage Resources, Western Libraries, Western Washington University.

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

College majors--Washington (State)--Decision making

Title of Series

Technical and research reports (Western Washington University. Office of Institutional Assessment and Testing) ; 1995-01






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