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​Pushing for an earlier major declaration

As faculty evaluate a new curriculum, the proposed class about the Duke experience for all first-year students highlights an emphasis on reflection. Considering this and a potential requirement for students to pursue an additional program of study alongside their primary major, we recognize the importance of reconsidering the current major declaration schedule and explore the possibility of moving major declaration to sophomore fall.

Requiring students to declare majors earlier grants more time for a focused engagement with their program content, including earlier completion of prerequisites, enrollment in higher-level electives and involvement in research programs. In the current system, students utilize half of their time at Duke for academic exploration. An earlier major declaration would allow time to more deeply pursue primary areas of study as well as explore new courses during upperclassmen years. Moreover, this would allow students more time with their major advisors, providing them with additional, long-term mentors and more guidance during their second year at Duke.

That being said, students who are completely unsure of their interests may feel pressure to halfheartedly declare their majors during their sophomore fall semesters. However, for these students, changing majors is a viable and easy option. Further, incoming first-year students will be aware of the new major declaration timeline and will be able to pursue a more deliberate exploration of classes at Duke. The greatest burden of this new schedule would fall on students pursuing Program II and interdepartmental majors, who go through lengthy application processes to have their programs approved. We recommend leaving the application timeline for these programs unchanged. In the meantime, we advise that these students declare a relevant major as they prepare Program II or interdepartmental applications, which would provide them with increased support in the form of a major advisor.

We believe that this shift toward a more streamlined, guided exploration makes an earlier major declaration worthwhile. However, a few changes to the current system would allow for smoother implementation. First, student themselves need to engage in deliberate reflection earlier in their undergraduate careers by carefully considering their enjoyment of each of their classes. While reflection happens through classes, we also believe insightful relationships are crucial to strengthen reflection. These may include ones with professors, upperclassmen, graduate students or other advisors, such as Directors of Academic Engagement.

In order to help students navigate the variety of avenues of exploration at Duke, we suggest a strengthening of the current advising system. Without guidance, students may be overwhelmed by the opportunities at Duke and the push to declare a major after two semesters. Because of this, we hope for less disparity in pre-major advising quality through more training, an improvement noted in the Arts & Sciences address about the new curriculum. In addition, we suggest that the First-year Advisory Council program consider an academic advising component. Students involved in the program hold a unique position to aid the transition into college for first-year students. While, the Peer Advising program is integrated into first-year dorm networks, the FAC program boasts an impressive advisor to first-year ratio similar to faculty advisor to student ratios.

With this strengthened advising network, first-years would be able to declare their majors earlier with little added stress but much more intention. Hopefully, this intentionality will carry through the rest of their time at Duke, giving students more incentive to figure out what they find to be meaningful and more time to explore within the frameworks they set.

The Editorial Board did not reach quorum for this editorial.


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