Stanford undergraduates have over 100 majors to choose from, each of which has its own declaration process that is structured around the nature of the major. The requirements for declaration processes vary significantly among the University’s many programs and departments, ranging from completing a short form to writing an essay.
The program in human biology is one major known for its rigorous declaration process. Before declaring, prospective majors must first complete four of six core courses. Students then submit a three- to five-page written statement that, according to the human biology website, details students’ “academic and long-term goals and the proposed list of courses satisfying the requirements for the major.”
A student’s proposed course list depends on the concentration that the individual has developed. Not only do students design their own concentrations, but the courses that make up those concentrations can be sponsored by other programs and departments. As a result, each study plan is unique to each student.
Matt Kramer ’14, human biology’s student services assistant, attributes the program’s in-depth declaration process to human biology majors’ ability to self-design their concentrations.
“The fact that students are making their own courses of study means that we have to be a little bit more rigorous in our declaration process to make sure that the courses form a cohesive study that meets all of our major requirements,” Kramer said. “We use the proposal essay as sort of the student’s justification for why their course of study should qualify as a human biology major.”
While the program may have more declaration requirements than other majors, Lia Cacciari, student services officer of the human biology program, emphasized that all students who fulfill the major declaration requirements are able to major in human biology. Thus, she said, the declaration proposal should not be seen as an application.
“The only time we wouldn’t let a student declare is if they haven’t made enough core progress,” Cacciari said. “They would have to wait another quarter or so, in which case that’s not a problem.”
Like human biology, the program in international relations also requires prospective majors to submit written statements upon declaring. The roughly one-paragraph written statements within the international relations declaration form are expected to address students’ topical specializations within the major, the integration of those specializations into a cohesive program of study and students’ post-Stanford plans. Prospective majors also complete a course proposal form detailing what they have taken and will take to fulfill requirements.
“[The required written statements] allow the program to know our students on a little more personal level and to know who they are, what they’re interested in and why it is they wanted to major in this and how we can help craft the major moving forward,” said Christelle Sheldon, program manager of International Relations.
The international relations major declaration process is also similar to human biology’s in that it is not meant to be an application. Rather, Sheldon emphasized that by filling out the required forms, students demonstrate that they “understand what the requirements are to fulfill the major.”
Other majors have less in-depth declaration processes. For example, the department of communication does not require written statements. Besides indicating that they have taken or are enrolled in one of four required courses, prospective communications majors only have to submit a form outlining when they plan to take other required and elective courses. Students then meet with the department’s student services manager.
Declaring in earth systems also has few requirements. Before declaring in online site Axess, prospective majors meet with peer advisors and one of the program’s student services managers. No additional paperwork is required.
“I think they really wanted you to connect with some of the main figures in the [program] before you declared by meeting with a student advisor and getting to know them so that you weren’t totally isolated and also meeting with the administrators so they know your face and your interests,” said Jessa Clark ‘19, an earth systems major. “So I think the face-to-face aspect of it was important in creating a more personal feel to declaring.”
Amid disparities among the declaration processes, Stanford’s departments and programs seek to provide help. Many departments and programs have implemented a peer advising system in which current majors advise prospective majors on crafting course plans and selecting advisors.
“Often times when students are declaring, some of the biggest questions they have are, ‘well what courses would be interesting to me if I’m interested in these specialization areas?’” Sheldon said. “Or, ‘what faculty members do you think would be keen to be advising me?’ And these are questions that are really great to be asking other students, students who are experienced in the major and who have already gone through the major.”
While each major has its own declaration process, all students are expected to declare by the end of their sophomore year.
Contact Gabriela Romero at gromero2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.