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University emphasizes resources that accompany major declaration

Axess has been open for winter course enrollment since Oct. 24, but currently undeclared juniors are unable to register due to the hold placed on their accounts preventing winter quarter enrollment. Though technically required to choose a major by the end of sophomore year, a handful of juniors delay this deadline until the end of fall quarter of junior year.

At the beginning of fall quarter this year, 471 juniors had yet to officially choose a major, which was down from the 505 undeclared juniors in the fall of 2009. As of Monday, there were 218 undeclared juniors.

(Anastasia Yee/The Stanford Daily)

The account holds, which will be lifted once the students declare their majors, is a final attempt to encourage students to move from academic exploration to a particular focus. It is also meant to provide students with the necessary push to seek departmental or Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) advising instead of continuing to put off the paperwork involved in declaring a major.

“The ones who have come to talk to me have known what it is they want to declare — mostly they have just had a lot of inertia,” said UAR academic director Kristin Black. “I think it was actually a good thing that they had a hold on their account so that they would go and talk to their department.”

A host of new or intensified efforts to help students declare are available for students well before the ultimate hold on undeclared juniors’ accounts. According to Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising Julie Lythcott-Haims ‘89, those efforts include Majors Night, Sophomore Symposium, an academic “agora” and the new freshman requirement of regular meetings with pre-major advisors.

Lythcott-Haims hopes these efforts will help more students declare their majors during their sophomore year.

“I hope that over the next couple of years we’ll drive that undeclared junior number down to as close to zero as possible,” she said.

Stanford offers more than 80 majors and considerably more subfields. Such variety is conducive to academic freedom and exploration, but it can make the selection process daunting.

Daniel Ong ’12, who declared his major in computer science just last week, had difficulties deciding on a major after taking classes in a variety of disciplines — all of which he enjoyed.

“When you come to Stanford, they give you a lot of latitude…when you explore classes you find out the stuff you like and are able to do,” he said.

Ong, who started out interested in political science, has pursued a few potential majors. This doesn’t bother him, though, because of the less-extensive minor requirements of many of those departments.

“The minor system is pretty awesome too,” he said. “When you go down a few wrong routes you can still graduate with minors.”

Black agreed that spending the first few quarters at Stanford undeclared helps open students’ minds to new areas of interest. She was quick to emphasize, though, that waiting too long can prevent students from fulfilling the potential of their undergraduate education.

“I want students to get connected to a department so they can start getting the benefits of actually having a major,” she said. “There are a lot of resources through a department and once you’ve declared you have access to those resources much better than before you declare.”

Lythcott-Haims also emphasized the importance of choosing a “disciplinary home” in order to take advantage of the resources each department has to offer.

“The study of the major is a central facet of the undergraduate experience,” Lythcott-Haims said. “A student who has not found a disciplinary home by the start of the junior year risks not being able to take advantage of what it means to have a major.”

Lythcott-Haims cited the opportunity to get to know faculty, the possibility of doing research and the sense of belonging to a “community of scholars by participating in events sponsored by the department, formal advising, and informal mentoring” as some of the benefits afforded to those with a declared major.

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