As sophomores face a major question — “what’s your major?” — large departments are continuing to solicit feedback for improving their curricula and supporting high levels of student demand.
While students do not have to officially declare a major until the beginning of their junior year, many STEM fields expect undergraduates to declare their major in the first term of their sophomore year. According to the Office of Institutional Research, economics, political science, history and molecular, cellular and developmental biology (MCDB) were the most popular majors for the class of 2018, with economics maintaining its position as the top major for the class of 2019. These figures represent the most recent data available.
Ebonya Washington, the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Economics, said she believes that students’ interest in the major is based on their potential career aspirations.
“People believe that econ can help with careers in consulting and careers in things on Wall Street. Yale doesn’t have a business major, so business-oriented students look to econ,” Washington said. “However, econ is a social science. There’s no actual business training. Instead, it tackles the social issues that other disciplines like sociology and political science do.”
To facilitate interest, the departments participate in a variety of fairs, hosting sessions for students to ask questions and learn more about the majors. The economics department, for instance, has a peer mentorship program for prospective and current majors. The Women in Economics club hosts weekly study halls, and Washington will be hosting an advisory session during which students enrolled in economics classes can offer feedback on their courses to improve the major.
The social sciences at Yale are also popular areas of study. While economics has been the top major at Yale for many years, political science has remained a close second.
According to Gregory Huber, chair of the Department of Political Science, the major attracts so many students because of the types of students that attend Yale.
“I think many students are highly interested in the political world and the interaction between the state and society, and as such, by the time people arrive on campus, it’s pretty astounding the number of students who have great interest in some aspects of government,” Huber said. “There’s no doubt that this is a particular moment when people seem interested in what’s going on in American government.”
But even popular majors have not always enjoyed such remarkably high interest levels.
According to Edward Rugemer, the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of History, the numbers of students majoring in history began to decline around 2011. In response, the history department enacted changes like introducing tracks that allow students to specialize. These options include regional tracks and pathways — the former focusing on a specific area of the world, the latter focusing on a specific theme that students can trace through history.
“The numbers have rebounded since we implemented those changes,” said Rugemer of the number of majors in his department.
Departments periodically make changes to their majors in response to student interest. Douglas Kankel, the director of undergraduate studies for MCDB, said that the Bachelor of Arts degree was added to the MCDB major so that there is “no reason someone seeking a liberal arts degree can’t major in MCBD as opposed to English.”
Meanwhile, some majors at Yale have limited resources with which they must accommodate high levels of student interest. According to Yale College Advising Resources, many majors require an application, including architecture; cognitive science; environmental studies; ethics, politics and economics; global affairs and neuroscience.
Three students who spoke with the News — one of whom is a prospective global affairs major, and two of whom have already been admitted to the program — said that while the application to the global affairs major does make it less accessible to the greater Yale student body, they understand why such a program would require an application.
“Yale is very competitive, so the DUS recognizes that there are students who apply for the major just for the bragging rights of being able to say ‘I got into one of the only majors at Yale that requires an application,’” said global affairs major Willow Sylvester ’21. “But because they recognize that, when they read through the applications they try to look for students who seem genuinely interested and don’t seem to be applying just for bragging rights.”
Yale has over 80 majors.
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