While some Cornell students look for “employability” in their choice of major, many students — particularly freshmen — also take personal interests into account when determining a course of study to pursue. About 97 percent of new students said it is “very important” or “essential” that their Cornell education provide them the opportunity to explore and discover different academic interests, according to the 2012 Freshman Survey.
Approximately 62 percent of students in the Class of 2016 said they consider gaining practical skills for the workforce essential, according to results of the survey, which was administered by the Department of Institutional Research and Planning to incoming freshmen this summer. Still, according to the study, personal interest plays a bigger role for many in their choice of major — and that, some Cornell officials say, is a good thing.
The findings align closely with that of an advising pilot program that included surveys administered to students in the College of Arts and Sciences during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.
Results from those studies showed that “99.4 percent of [responding students] said that their own interests had some influence or a great deal of influence” on their chosen course of study, according to Carol Grumbach ’78 J.D. ’87, associate dean for new student programs. A majority of students listed personal interest as the most influential factor in choosing a major, according to the data.
Grumbach was “pleased” by these responses, she said, since she believes students can pursue a variety of options after they graduate regardless of their choice in major.
“We were pleased that students were pursuing a major related to their interests, because the major is not as important to [one’s] future academic or career path as students might think,” she said.
For Michelle Valentin ’16, a Fine Arts major in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, her choice in major has been driven by a personal interest in movies — one she hopes to turn into a job as an animator.
“I have always been fascinated by movies and I have always wanted to be the one to make them. I want to be able to wake up every day and love what I do,” Valentin said. “I know that as an animator, I would be able to do so.”
Aside from taking courses required for her major, Valentin is pursuing an academic path that will advance her interests in art and animation, she said. She wants to take courses in digital media and other fields that could teach her more about animation.
“My professors are real-life artists who know what the art world is like and can help me prepare myself for a job,” Valentin said.
Caroline Begleiter ’16 is another student whose interest is driving her choice of major. Though she currently has not picked a major in the arts college, Begleiter said her interest in social networking may be steering her toward a major in information science.
“I've always been interested in social networking and have been curious to learn more about it,” she said. “I think taking classes in data collection and social sciences will give me the tools I need to be able to understand and do a job in the line of work I'm interested in.”
According to Grumbach, other freshmen also said that, in addition to personal interests, family members, peers and faculty advisors also play a role in students’ choice of major.
Leah Buchman ’16 is one student whose choice of major has been influenced by her teachers. A student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Buchman said that if she does not go to medical school, she plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in her current major, entomology.
Her choice was not driven by career plans, but by both her interest in insects and the encouragement of her teachers.
“I have been interested in insects my entire life,” Buchman said. “My teachers and what I have learned have only increased my confidence in going further and doing well in my major.”
As the first year on campus continues for members of the Class of 2016, students may decide to change their majors –– something Fiorino said a few of her friends have already expressed interest in doing. But Fiorino said she hopes to continue her studies in her chosen field of study.
“I don’t think I have been exposed to enough yet to decide, but I think I definitely want to stay in ILR,” Fiorino said.