Students in the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences no longer have to declare a major before studying away in their third semester.
Before this policy change, any student who wished to study abroad needed to have already declared a major. Administrators said that they have decided to eliminate this rule, as there is academic value to studying abroad before declaring a major.
“By the end of freshman year, a student could have a passion that is best served by studying abroad in Brazil the next year,” said Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education. “But it could also be much later that they study abroad.”
Amanda Kelso, executive director of the Global Education for Undergraduates, also said that the college does not want to be an obstacle to students at a time when they are still shaping their academic goals.
“Imagine the inspiration of a third semester spent with the Duke in New York program and how that might shape your academic trajectory for the rest of your Duke career and beyond,” Kelso said. “We don’t want the specter of an early major-declaration to hold you back.”
Kelso added that practically speaking, sophomores who study away in their third semester at Duke still have enough time to meet with advisers before declaring their major in their fourth semester. She noted that students who plan to study away in their fourth semester are still required to declare a major before they leave.
Lee Baker, dean of academic affairs and associate vice provost for undergraduate education, said that studying away as a third semester student is likely to impact a student’s major declaration. He noted that the idea to change the rule came initially from faculty working on Duke Kunshan University, who emphasized that students might change their academic trajectory after studying away at the Kunshan campus.
Baker said that the process for studying abroad pre-declaration would involve the pre-major advising system. He did, however, note that students considering certain majors that would need to do more thinking before going abroad.
Baker mentioned neuroscience and global health as examples of departments that a student would want to consult before choosing to study away in the third semester, as they have prerequisites that are “more complex.”
Nowicki noted that the intent behind the policy change is to give students more flexibility in how they are putting parts of their education together. He said that Duke students are too frequently determining their academic paths based on what they think they should do and what they see other students doing.
“For example, the average student thinks that you study abroad in the fall of junior year,” Nowicki said.
He noted that although this norm is rooted in the timing of basketball season, an interest in being around for basketball season only applies to about a sixth of undergraduates.
In response to this notion, Nowicki said it is important for students to think about the arc of their educations over the four years and to decide for themselves when to fit in various academic opportunities.
Nowicki said that changing the major declaration rule was not an overly complex process.
Both Nowicki and Baker noted that many faculty members agreed that it made sense to give sophomores the new option.
“This change just sort of lowers another hurdle,” Baker said. “It’s less bureaucratic and more empowering.”