Why Indecisiveness Can Be a Good Thing

Why Indecisiveness Could Be a Good Thing

Do high school seniors know what they want to study in college? Looking back, how many of us got it right? The School of Undergraduate Studies combines career counseling with course advising to help undeclared students explore options before choosing majors.

The school admitted its first 708 students in 2009. Today, there are 2,100 first- and second-year students enrolled. None of them have declared a major yet. And that’s a good thing. Exploring before choosing means students make informed decisions and don’t have to start over when they do discover what they eventually decide will be their major.

The school was first imagined by the faculty and students serving on the Task Force on Curricular Reform. Their 2005 recommendations align perfectly with the current effort to improve the university’s four-year graduation rate. As a contributor to first the Task Force on Curricular Reform and then the Four-Year Graduation Task Force, I consider them two important chapters from the same book. Collectively, the recommendations provide guidance for how to enhance the undergraduate experience for students.

The school was founded on five key recommendations: to establish a new college with a dean who is focused on transforming undergraduate education; create required Signature Courses taught by our best scholars to help new students transition to UT’s high standards of critical thinking and scholarship; reimagine the core curriculum shared by all students; create a portal for undeclared students that incorporates strategic advising; and allocate the financial resources needed to pay for this effort.

All five of these recommendations are now reality, representing the kind of sweeping systemic change often thought impossible at a large Tier One university like ours. My colleagues at peer institutions are jealous. And frankly, they should be.

To be clear, the mandate that created Undergraduate Studies does not involve awarding degrees. All students must transition to majors in their sophomore year. While they’re deciding, they are taking the core coursework and introductory classes they need to stay on track for graduation.

Notably, our students are sticking with the majors they first declare. Of students who started in Undergraduate Studies and graduated in 2012, almost 90 percent kept the majors they transferred into, a value between twice and three times that of the general UT population.

That success drives my central message: high school students who want to attend the University of Texas at Austin but aren’t yet sure what to major in should join us in Undergraduate Studies. We are here to help students find their communities at the university, their paths to graduation in four years, and ultimately careers they’re excited about.

I love being the dean of a school that exists solely to help undergraduates succeed. Our job is to ensure that by making well-informed decisions about their majors and, beyond that, their futures, these students are not losing ground but are ahead of the game.

Brent L. Iverson is dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies.

 

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