A couple of years ago Augustana College went through a spurt of adding majors. This was something I favored for a variety of reason.
It was during this time I was asked by the Department of Business Administration to provide some tips about “why a major matters” and “what are some things that symbolize a strong major” (they were considering and being encouraged to add a major in international business).
While I welcomed the conversation, I also found myself in a bit of bind. Although I knew that our own admitted student data suggested that a “strong major” was key in a student’s college choice, I had never taken the time to clearly outline what makes a strong major.
Before I met with the Department of Business Administration I spoke to several friends and consultants (George Dehne was particularly helpful) to ask them what they thought symbolized “a strong major.” In the end, I did my best to provide the briefest possible explanation, which I outline below.
I welcome your thoughts and feedback.
W. Kent Barnds (aka bowtieadmission)
1. The major and why it matters: Let’s be honest. The major is the only real currency that matters when it come college education (at least during the college search). While I know others will decry this and suggest that a 17-year old doesn’t know what they are going to major in while they are choosing a college…they will cite all sorts of data about how kids change their mind–and they are right, but… I have worked with enough prospective students and parents in my nearly 20 years in college admissions to know that it is with absolute certainty that they are going major in X they navigate the decision-making process. Furthermore, think about the fact that college and guidance counselors throughout the nation typically use major as one of the guiding characteristics in helping a student develop their list. The major matters and it matters more today with the emergence of all kinds of websites that include major as a primary criteria in searching for a college. Let me repeat for all you out there that want to argue that “whatever interdisciplinary program that you’ve offered for years will allow a student to do the same thing” as the major that’s being pushed by the Marketing or Admissions Office, major matters because it’s the item that is pulled into all kinds of databases that students are using to search for college. Major, not minor; major; not concentration; major; not certificate matters.
If you don’t believe check out these sites to see how important major is to the search process:
2. General Qualities and Characteristics representing “a strong major”
I developed the following list as the “symbols of a strong major.” In my view, they are probably in rank order, too. This may trouble some because many characteristics have to do with size. Unfortunately, I think this is something the market dictates. At the same time, I hope small, STRONG majors won’t be discouraged because I think there are things you can do to respond.
- Offering a major
- Number of faculty
- Number and variety of courses
- Accessible internship opportunities
- Career and graduate school placement
- Distinguishing elements of the program
- Noteworthy alums and young alums
- One-on-one mentoring
3. Ask yourself, what do you offer beyond the major requirements that strengthen the major?
At Augustana we are really fortunate to have a number of special programs characteristics that if leveraged and marketed correctly strengthen the major and help it stand out from a similar major at another college our university.
For us, we have to ask the questions listed below.
How does Augie Choice strengthen the major?
How does Senior Inquiry strengthen the major?
How does our location in the QCA strengthen the major?
When we answer them carefully and thoroughly we identify strengths of our majors that no one else can.
4. Themes to consider to strengthen your major
If you need to develop some distinctions for your major think about the following elements. I think these are great things around which to build a major and in my opinion will position your major for the future.
Project and time management