Press-Citizen: Students Becoming Much More Strategic When Picking Major

Thursday, November 10, 2011
By Emily Schettler
Iowa City Press-Citizen
UI’s top majors
Here are the top 10 for 2011, by number of undergraduate students.

Business: 2,326
Engineering: 1,667
Psychology: 1,112
English: 827
Studies: 697
Biology: 636
Interdepartmental Studies: 591
Finance: 535
Art: 481
Political Science: 395
Source: UI Registrar

University of Iowa freshman Daniel Sanchez always has had an interest in math and science, and when he saw the career prospects for engineers once they graduate from college, he knew what he wanted to study.


“A lot of engineers are getting jobs right after receiving their B.A.s, and the starting salaries are higher than for other fields,” said Sanchez, 18, of Schaumburg, Ill. “That helped drive my decision.”

Sanchez and his classmates in the project section of associate professor David Wilder’s Engineering Problem Solving-1 class are part of a growing number of undergraduate engineering students at UI.

With nearly 1,700 undergraduates, it is the second largest undergraduate major on campus. Business has long been the top major, and psychology, English and communication studies round out the top five. Though the general interests of students have not changed, the reasons students choose those majors and a student’s level of specialization within an area of study have, UI administrators say.

For undergraduates in the Tippie College of Business, that means adding a second major or a certificate program to make themselves as competitive as possible once they reach the job market.

“A lot more of our students are recognizing they need both the hard skills and the soft skills in the workplace, so they’re going for the accounting degree and the management degree,” Moeller said. “They’re thinking a little farther ahead than in the past.”

To help accommodate new demands, the college has introduced certificate programs in international business and entrepreneurship, which show employers that students placed an added emphasis on that portion of their education while at UI.

Many who seek certificates and double majors hope to gain the extra experience without going through the added time of seeking a Master’s of Business Administration, Moeller said.

“A lot of employers want employees that can hit the ground running,” he said. “Students recognize that and want to get as much done here as they can.”

Colleges and departments also offer more specialized courses than they did in the past, Moeller said.

In the College of Business for example, management students can specialize in several different areas, from human resources management to information systems. Tippie students also can receive certificates in areas such as international business or entrepreneurship to help reflect additional coursework and preparation, Moeller said.

“The certificate shows a student is dedicated and wise enough to supplement that education,” he said.

He said students also are looking for hands-on experience that could make them more marketable to future employers.

Wilder said that hands-on experience can help students connect with their education early on.

That’s why the students in his problem solving course start building model structures their very first semester.

“In the past, they had to wait until the fourth semester, and some lost interest because they couldn’t see what engineering was all about,” he said.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences still enrolls the largest portion of UI’s student population, with 54.3 percent of the student body.

More than 6 percent of undergraduate students at UI list their majors as undecided. Moeller said for many students, that decision comes once they’ve had a chance to explore possibilities. The same is common for students in the business college.

“Some have a general idea, but there’s so much in business,” he said. “A lot come in with a general idea of what they’d like to do, but when they start taking core courses, they realize there’s other areas of business they didn’t really think about.”