Mario Rodriguez was facing a pool of options as a student new to Montclair State, so he did what comes naturally – he hit the gym. As he trained, he saw how his workouts motivated other students to join him, and he grew interested in learning more about how the human body works, and once injured, how it recovers.
“That was the start of my journey,” Rodriguez says. Now a second-year student, he is moving closer to connecting his interests, skills and strengths to choosing an academic and career path in exercise science. “I wanted experience to decide what it is I want to do,” Rodriguez says of the time he spent in the gym thinking about his future. “There are so many things you can do on this campus and so many places it can take you. I feel a year really helped me out.”
To give students the time and space to make “major” decisions, Montclair State has launched the first program of its kind in New Jersey with University College. The initiative makes “exploratory” and “pre-major” the new “undeclared” and provides an academic home for students as they discover a passion and career path.
Opened in September of 2018, advisors in University College are helping more than 2,000 students wade through all the educational possibilities available at Montclair State, mindful that a wrong choice could lead to added semesters and tuition. The students include freshmen and transfer students, as well as continuing students who have yet to select a major or are transitioning to a new major.
“We give students the chance to explore, to take their time and make sure that the major they’re selecting is the right major.”
“We give students the chance to explore, to take their time and make sure that the major they’re selecting is the right major,” says David Hood, founding dean. With an academic home, “students don’t feel the pressure to decide whether they want to be a chemist or a marine scientist or an educator or study pre-law.”
Students coming out of high school may not know exactly what they want to pursue, “and at 18, 19 years old, that’s OK,” says Daphne Galkin, assistant dean for academic programming. Even students who are sure about what they want to study often change their mind.
“What we’re creating is a sense of belonging for students to the College and to Montclair State,” says Danielle Insalaco-Egan, associate dean, “that will enable them to select a major that is truly the ‘right fit’ so they can stay on track and graduate in a timely way.”
With 300 majors, minors and concentrations, there’s a lot for students to consider, and some difficult conversations, says Temeshia Rufus, an academic advisor. It could be about grades or the “aha!” moment when a student – perhaps one attracted to fashion studies – comes to terms that the major they are interested in requires more math and science than they bargained for.
Freshman Ally Ayers says University College has allowed her to “experience and consider different educational and career paths that I would have otherwise overlooked had I gone directly into a major.”
Ayers is considering the arts and working on her portfolio for Animation/Illustration. But she’s open to other avenues, and as a University College student, she had the chance to explore those in early October, literally “crashing” classes in business and communications during a special academic exploratory week.
“I want to take my time, complete my general ed requirements and see where it goes,” Ayers says. “I still have time to decide my major.”