Major decisions

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Nowadays, it’s easy to put off declaration until just before graduation. The students who planned their timetables got to graduate. Those who forgot a course had to stay behind. It wasn’t always like this. Prior to June 2002, students in these faculties had to declare by the end of their second year. But that requirement was nixed, allowing students to declare just before graduation. However, by this time next year, incoming students might have to pick their classes with a bit more care.

On May 2, the UVic Senate passed a motion that will require many future students to declare their majors earlier. As of May 2015, students in the faculties of Science and Social Sciences will declare their majors by the end of their first year, and students in Humanities will declare by the end of their second. Administrators and professors believe that the timely declaration of majors will encourage students to plan their academic paths more closely and will better acquaint students with university resources and staff. They raise a good point.

Let’s face it: most students either don’t have the time or the interest to look beyond their own coursework when it comes to their education. If a procedural matter can be delayed, it’ll get delayed, but too much procrastination can be a dangerous thing. The new proposal won’t set your major in stone, though. You can still change your major as you see fit, and you can even declare as “exploratory” and buy yourself some time. The university will finally eliminate paper declaration forms and move the process online, so students don’t have to make the trip to Academic Advising for a same-day appointment. Students will be better able to track their own progress, as all students can now access Curriculum, Advising, and Program Planning (CAPP) reports, these currently being only accessible to those who’ve already declared (a needless barrier). It might also ease the financial burden of students, who won’t be surprised to find they have to stay a fifth year to complete their degree.

Declaring early might be a little scary, but it asks that students take their education a little more seriously. We’re not saying that all students are twiddling their thumbs, jumping aimlessly from course to course, if they haven’t declared at the first opportunity. There were many procedural hurdles to declaration, including prerequisite courses and timetable conflicts. The University says that barriers to declaration will be removed, but students have had to deal with unintuitive course selection tools for years. A well-planned and automated process that alerts students to possible minors, timetable conflicts, and barriers to graduation would be a wonderful thing.

One possible concern involves locking students in. While you can still change your major at any time, asking students to come to terms with their academic choices might preclude experimentation, as “the path” is presumably much clearer, and deviating from it might be seen as wrong. Hopefully, those in their first year will still experiment and try many disciplines. Most 18-year-olds end up changing their minds anyway. If declaring so soon is a real barrier, perhaps a year off is best. 

Earlier declaration won’t solve all problems, and the university could always do more to help students with these profound choices. Better informing students about courses with past course outlines or examining the feasibility of a course-shopping week or preview classes might help. Students should be able to access counsellors without prohibitive wait times, and little-known yet helpful resources (like the Career Exploration Group for those unsure of their paths) should be advertised to students. The university has decided that declaring earlier would benefit students, and if they provide the appropriate resources and implement it in the right way, they might be right.

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