Due to Duke’s academic flexibility, students are able to move from the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences to the Pratt School of Engineering, and vice versa. Many students make this switch once—and a few have done it twice.
Linda Franzoni, associate dean of undergraduate education in the Pratt School of Engineering, explained in an email the logistics of the process. Duke’s previous policy used to prohibit students from switching schools until the end of their first year, so given Duke’s major declaration deadline of sophomore spring, it would have been nearly impossible for a student to switch in and then out of a school.
Now, students may make the switch after their first semester.
After consulting with an academic dean in Pratt, Franzoni wrote that there is “one student [to go back and forth] per year in a typical year, and that we may have two every once in a while.”
Varun Nair, a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in mathematics and Chinese, is one of the students who transferred from Trinity to Pratt to Trinity.
“I applied to Duke as a neuroscience major, so I came in as Trinity officially,” Nair said. “But, over the summer, before my first semester at Duke, I basically made up my mind that I wasn’t going to do anything in Trinity and instead I actually registered for the first-year engineering classes. By the end of my first semester at Duke I had applied to transfer, and by my second semester I was officially an engineering student.”
By around winter of his sophomore year, however, Nair had realized his interests lay more outside of engineering and that he would prefer to return to Trinity.
“I started to get into computer science and math a little bit more and decided perhaps engineering wasn’t the best route,” he said.
The curriculum requirements for Pratt and Trinity are vastly different. While Trinity is formatted so that students are required to take classes in various areas of knowledge and modes of inquiry Pratt requires specific subjects along with department requirements: writing, math, natural science, physics, social science and humanities, and engineering and sciences.
“I think I found the Pratt curriculum a bit too rigid in terms of being able to explore,” Nair said. “I wasn’t able to take a lot of electives in Trinity that I wanted to, and that wasn’t too appealing to me because I liked being a little bit more well-rounded in that respect and not being hardcore engineer.”
Nair applied to transfer out of Pratt at the end of his sophomore year, starting off his junior year back in Trinity where he originally started.
Nair described the process of transferring between the schools to be relatively easy, praising Duke for the simplicity of the procedure.
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“It was as simple as sending an email to my dean stating why I wanted to leave,” Nair said. “And most of the time if you do a good job, I think, in the first email to your dean, you can get most of the work done upfront and just not even have to meet with your dean at all.”
A large part of a successful transfer process is to be fully prepared and proactive.
“I had done a lot of the planning upfront,” said Nair. “I think if you’re going into these meetings and you don’t know what to do, then the deans will try to prompt you. But, I had spent some time thinking beforehand and just laid out a good reason for why I was going and later going out.”
Similar to Nair, Himanshu Jain, a junior, transferred from Trinity to Pratt to Trinity. He began his first year in Trinity, interested in computer science, moved Pratt at the end of that year, and then returned to Trinity as a declared computer science major during his sophomore year.
Jain said he originally moved from Trinity to Pratt because he “wanted to be challenged.”
“I wasn’t sure about staying in Pratt, so I took courses that overlapped with CS majors. While taking [Electrical and Computer Engineering 250, Computer Architecture], I realized I didn’t like electronics that much,” Jain said. “Rather than taking these classes, I would rather take some high-level computer science classes.”
That flexibility drove both Jain and Nair to end up in Trinity.
“I took some history classes and realized that some liberal arts classes are fun, and I wanted to take more, but the Pratt curriculum is not flexible. Trinity’s flexibility is what made me come back,” Jain said. “I wanted more of the Duke curriculum as a whole, rather than four engineering classes back to back.”
Nair also gave a word of advice for anyone considering switching between Trinity and Pratt.
“If you’re a freshman and thinking about doing this, I would say absolutely do it,” said Nair. “If you’re a sophomore or a junior, that’s when it becomes a little bit more problematic where you need to really carefully plan out what you’re doing. Of course it isn’t something to be done rashly.
“But if you think there is something in the other school that you want to explore that you can't do from where you are right now, then just go check it out. And if you don’t like it, you can always come back like I did.”
Despite its rarity, deans do not discourage switching between schools. “The only down-side that I can think of is that the student will be having a different set of advisors every time that a switch occurs,” Franzoni wrote.
Students are assigned an academic dean in the school they hope to join, to ensure they can take the courses needed for graduation. In addition, they will meet with an academic dean in the school they’re leaving.
“In our (Pratt’s) case, we are interested in why students are leaving engineering and we want to have a conversation to understand that better,” Franzoni wrote.
Madeleine Berger is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.
Navya Belavadi is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.