Ask first- or second-year students at UCLA their major and some will emphasize they’re only a “pre-major.” The reason: They haven’t officially been accepted to their desired major.
If getting into UCLA wasn’t hard enough, some departments require students undergo another application process to be officially accepted into their majors.
Some programs, which range from the most popular ones like psychology and business economics to smaller majors like communication studies, human biology and society, global studies and international development studies, currently employ different means to make majors more selective. They might enforce GPA cutoffs, require a more holistic application with an essay component or not allow re-application to the major.
This can pose an anxiety-ridden gamble, where Bruins must have a backup plan should they face denial from their intended program.
But admission to a university should confer the promise of an education to students without institutional setbacks. The reasoning for these majors’ selective admissions processes comes down to issues of funding and space – money from the state and the University of California Board of Regents must be allocated to expand majors.
As an intermediate solution to ensure students can pursue their educational dreams, academic departments and institutes should establish a predictable, maximum percentage of rejected students and gradually reduce it every year until it’s 5 to 15 percent of their applicant pool. Increased funding and space would allow these impacted departments and institutes the expansion needed to accept more students.
Students were vetted when they were admitted to UCLA, and Cs get degrees, technically speaking. Forcing additional evaluations on students applying to a major – and possibly getting shunted into an academic trajectory they didn’t wish to pursue – prevents students from studying something that would truly fulfill them.
For example, the international development studies program has rejected about half of its applicants in some years, according to its undergraduate advisor. This rejection policy can not only drastically deter students from learning about a desired topic, but can also affect their academic planning.
Katie Farr, a third-year anthropology student, wasn’t admitted to the human biology and society major when she applied last year, after two years of taking major preparatory classes, despite having a strong interest in the subject matter.
“It was disappointing because I wanted to learn about these topics in the frame that this major set them in,” Farr said. “I unfortunately wasn’t accepted to the major, which set me back almost a full year in terms of classes.” Nearly 45 percent of applicants were denied admission to the human biology and society major’s class of 2018, according to data from the major’s student affairs officer.
There is also the unnecessary stress of being in an unconfirmed major, while simultaneously planning a backup major that allows on-time graduation. And it can also deter students from applying for certain majors altogether; they may feel inclined to game the system and opt for more secure major options.
The main hurdle to increasing admissions to these majors is funding. Corey Hollis, director of College Academic Counseling, explained this funding depends on a complex formula of factors, one that UCLA and its administrators don’t necessarily have control over, including resources from the state.
“We have kept up in our commitment to the state, but the state hasn’t kept up in its funding,” Hollis said. She added other limiting factors include a major’s size and hiring new long-term faculty.
Eliminating majors’ selectivity and expanding department resources – whether finances, faculty or classroom space – is easier said than done. The UC Regents and the state affect these issues from the top-down, influencing money allocations to the College of Letters and Science, and then between different deans of the divisions, such as humanities.
Hollis also warned about thinned resources and over-enrollment.
“If you admit everybody who wants to be in the major, everybody is happy, but then the quality of that education suffers, because departments don’t have the resources to offer enough classes to meet that demand,” she said.
So long as lack of state funding remains a reality, imposing a realistic cap for a major’s denied student percentage that decreases every year would serve as a compromise to prevent bad news for more students, and proactively commits to sustainable growth of the major over the long term.
The current model of admitting students to UCLA for these majors only to deny them entrance into the major is counterintuitive. Selectiveness either needs to carry over into the admission process itself – which won’t happen under the UC Regents’ current enrollment requirements – or the university needs to seek alternative funding resources, such as donor relations.
Admission rates for majors naturally fluctuate from year to year, but this is a necessary commitment that UCLA must keep in the face of looming enrollment increases, as the school is in the process of enrolling an additional 1,500 students in a three-year period.
With constant threats to higher education resources, the University of California has always played expert in balancing relatively scarce resource allocation with quality of education.
But an acceptance letter is a promise of academic access, regardless of whether a major is housed in the most popular department or the smallest institute on campus.
When students who come to our university can’t study what they wish to study – the point of their college educations – we nip intellectual curiosity and deter a foundational academic mission of the university.