Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Don't choose your college by the majors they offer (at least that's my advice)

Very often I hear students asking "Do you have...such and such...major?" I almost always say yes because Dartmouth has majors in seemingly ever field and then some. However, I always follow up with a quick explanation of the liberal arts because I want to emphasize to prospective students that at Dartmouth they're doing much more than completing a major (or a double major, or a triple major, or a major and minor, or a double major and minor). Students are learning how to think and solve problems the cut across any particular discipline.

I caution students from deciding on a college based on the availability (or perceived unavailability) or a major. I make this caution for several reasons, including:
  • New concentrations, majors, and programs may come about while you're on campus and you may decide that's what you want to focus on (like Dartmouth's new courses in International Studies--not to be confused with International Relations--and business, though not a major)
  • You may find yourself loving a topic you never considered previously. High schools don't offer the breadth of classes you'll find at schools like Dartmouth, so how is it you know what you want to major in when you've never tried anything besides math, science, english, history, art, and PE? My opinion--come to college to try something new and then decide what you want to major in (and it may be what you liked all along or might be something completely different).
  • A major does not determine your career! An economics major is not required for business nor is a government major required for law school. One Dartmouth friend of mine now at medical school was a music major; another friend now in law school was an english major; I was a government major and now I work in admissions as well as run an education non-profit that works in Africa. You should major in the subject or subjects you enjoy--that will allow you to be the most successful both in the short term and later on down the road.
  • At Dartmouth our majors fall along disciplinary lines, not professional ones--this is true of most liberal arts colleges. Don't expect to find a very particular major that's overly focused (business, accounting, journalism are examples of majors we don't have; but certainly many Dartmouth graduates go into business, accounting, and journalism). Your major does not make you an expert in that field; that's what graduate school is for. For instance, you're not going to be an Animation Major at Dartmouth, you'd probably be a Film and New Media Major; or you're not going to be an Architecture Major, you'd probably be a Studio Art major modified with Engineering.
  • Names of majors can be deceiving. Don't ask if a college has this or that major, ask "How can I study this particular thing, whatever this thing is that you're passionate about?" For example, if you want to study International Relations, you'll be a Government Major with a focus on international relations; technically speaking you're not an IR major accordingly to your transcript but you'll have learned all about international relations. This goes back to the naming more by discipline than specific topics.
How are you going to choose your college? By the majors available to you or by the academic, intellectual, social, extracurricular or personal experiences available to you?

"This isn't anything new"

Here is a reflection on Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s controversial arrest from within academe.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Obama at the NAACP

President Obama's speech to the NAACP, marking the 100th anniversary of the organization, got a lot of press last week for the "No Excuses" quote, but there was quite a bit of substance about his thoughts on higher education as well. If you don't know where to find it on the web, you can find it here: The policy stuff starts at about the 15th minute.