As the Class of 2023 enters their junior year, the time to declare a major is running out. However, after more than a year and a half of remote learning, some rising juniors say the task is proving to be particularly challenging because of the lost time.
While undergraduate students should declare a major at the end of their sophomore year, the on-campus experience has allowed students to explore a wide variety of majors with ease because of spontaneous in-person interactions. But students said that this year, connecting with faculty members and peers virtually just wasn’t the same.
The difficulty of creating genuine connections with professors during the pandemic made it difficult for Daryn Rockett ’23 to choose a major. She said she wished she had more opportunities to talk to professors about major requirements and departmental experiences.
Louis Newman, the dean of Academic Advising and associate vice provost for undergraduate education (VPUE) said in an email that academic advisors understand the challenges faced by undergraduates during the pandemic, including selecting a major.
Academic Advising offered virtual events to replicate in-person programs such as an Explore Stanford session on “Networking with Faculty,” according to Newman.
Some students, though, said that interacting with faculty and peers during online meetings felt awkward. For Jerri Anna Roper ’23, engaging with instructors, especially during in-person office hours, helped enhance her learning and gave her insight into her field of interest. But she said online office hours did not match the in-person setting and made interactions with the teaching staff more difficult.
“I would rather talk to my professors and peers one-on-one, in-person, and look them in the eye and have a conversation and really get to know them,” Roper said.
Others added that limited interaction with peers about their academic interests also made it more difficult to choose.
Zahra Rastegar ’23 said she used to spend time with peers who shared similar interests to learn about their academic experiences, the majors they were considering and information about meetings and activities that could help her make a decision. But the capacity to emulate these discussions over the course of the pandemic was limited, Rastegar said.
Newman wrote that a number of programs were created to connect students with faculty and peers to help them choose a major during the pandemic and advertised through the Academic Advising weekly newsletter and departmental email lists.
The programs included the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Virtual Study Halls which offered information from faculty, staff and peers, as well as academic departments’ virtual information sessions presented by faculty and peer advisors. In addition, the Cardinal Compass website and majors.stanford.edu website provided students with digital resources to explore a wide variety of majors. According to Newman, students also met virtually with their VPUE academic advisors in record numbers.
The students interviewed acknowledged that they were aware of these resources but said some were not easily accessible, especially academic advisors.
“We have advisors — they’re just hard to get a hold of,” Roper said.
Roper is planning to major in psychology but said that the fatigue from remote learning has made her reconsider.
“I don’t know if I’m just burnt out from school or if I’m just burnt out from psych,” she said. “I don’t know if I like this and that’s been a lot of emotions and stress.”
Victor Shyaka ’23 said he did not feel as affected by remote learning because he had already chosen his academic path before the pandemic hit. Shyaka said that his interest in engineering and physics was solidified long before coming to Stanford, and so he did not feel pressure when it came to declaring a major. But he agreed that for students who had not selected their major before the start of virtual learning, the process was certainly more challenging.
Newman explained that it is not “too late to declare a major” and that “there’s still plenty of time left to learn more about majors.” Academic advisors are available throughout the summer to meet with students who need additional guidance and support, he added.