Communication Studies


White, Kim




Why do students choose certain majors? What influences their decisions most? These were questions I pondered for the past four years, and utilized my honors project to answer. Today, it is almost expected that students enter college directly after high school, regardless if they are willing or ready. In result, many students find themselves lost when it comes time to declare a major. Therefore, they enter and remain undeclared. Family, friends, community, society, and more often outweigh personal interests and abilities. This causes many problems, including unhappy and struggling students and parents.

The University of Rhode Island offers a course titled UCS 270, formerly known as EDC 279, that helps students confidently select a major and career path. Students take interests assessments, explore applicable majors and relate them to pertinent careers. They interview professionals in their desired field and attain a strong understanding of the direction and occupation they will aspire toward. This class is highly beneficial, but in its current state, it is not enough. Many students, both underclassmen and upperclassmen, are unaware the course is offered.

With the help and support of my faculty sponsor, Kim White, a University College for Academic Success advisor, I surveyed underclassmen enrolled in UCS 270 and a separate population of upperclassmen. I found that many students were influenced by stereotypes related to specific majors, more were influenced by the opinions of their families, and even more were influenced by expected salary. I asked all students if they would rather live to work or work to live. The lack of dominance in either category is striking, as many students do not consider this, something that is very important and beneficial when choosing academic majors. Many students selected the “unsure” option. The majority of underclassmen said interests are more important than abilities and an even larger majority of upperclassmen agreed.

I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing both Vice Provost Dr. Dean Libutti and Assistant Dean of University College Linda Lyons. They gave me insight on the large community of undeclared students nationally and specifically at URI. They explained efforts being made by faculty to alter and improve to “No Major, No Problem” slogan currently used by the university. They said the lack of importance students place on selecting majors is drastic, for various reasons. I posed three possible solutions to this problem – 1. Lengthen URI 101 for the entire semester so instructors can put more focus on academic majors 2. Mandate UCS 270 for students who are still undeclared at the end of freshman year 3. Create a course for sophomores that can help students solidify their major decisions. Everyone agrees this is an issue, and the data supports that. Now it is time to make it heard and make a change.


academic major, undeclared, underclassmen, upperclassmen, career


The variety of academic majors offered by universities seems to become more eclectic each year. From public relations to environmental economics to 3D graphics, the coursework and journeys taken by students across the country are exceptionally diverse. The University of Rhode Island offers over 100 majors, making it undeniable that some disciplines are disparate. My project calls attention to similarities in an area where the focus is customarily on the contrary. Before students were categorized, they all faced the same question – “What should my major be?”

At an age where we search for ways to identify ourselves, we often put majors at the top of our lists. For four years, our occupation, title, and purpose are often “student.” Parents, friends, teachers, and employers are guaranteed to ask what we study. Yet, the importance society places on majors does not directly correlate with the effort students put into choosing one.

I entered college as a carefree, undeclared student. I found my passion in communication studies, but cannot determine what led me there. Similarly, many of my peers are unable to identify how they chose their fields of study. Over the years, I have grown curious to know the leading factors in major decisions. I longed for cognizance in a prevalent yet overlooked area.

Kimberly White, a senior academic advisor in University College, and I paired up to tackle these questions. Why do so many students take such a serious decision so lightly? How do they narrow down such an extensive list of options? What components make up their determinations, or lack thereof? A population of underclassmen in the Undeclared Living Learning Community completed surveys with pertinent questions, providing substantial insight into the ties among personality, interests, abilities, familial influencers, societal pressures, and more. Respectively, evidence from a survey of upperclassmen parallels the same topics.

I had the honor of interviewing Vice Provost Dr. Dean Libutti and Assistant Dean of University College Linda Lyons. Both have worked closely with undeclared students at various universities and have a keen understanding of that particular population at the University of Rhode Island. Their knowledge, paired with my research, ensures that students share a bond of subconscious, uninformed, and rash decisions for a number of reasons. Fortunately, my project suggests plausible solutions to this major dilemma.