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Senior exercise stress a factor in dropping of second major

Senior exercise stress a factor in dropping of second major

Henry Uhrik

Kirsti Buss ’18 intended to double major, but dropped the English major in favor of sociology during their senior year. As they progressed in the English major, they began to enjoy it less, and ultimately decided to focus their energy on sociology courses. “It freed up my schedule … as well as made it so that I only had to complete one comps,” Buss wrote in an email to the Collegian.

20 percent of the class of 2017 graduated with two majors, and 173 students of the 983 who have declared majors so far are pursuing double majors, according to the Office of the Registrar. That’s only 17 percent of the student body.

Double majoring appears to be less popular for Kenyon students partially because it requires them to complete two comprehensive exams, also known as comps. These exams are created by the academic departments and can take any form, from a lengthy paper to an oral presentation. Of the Ohio Five schools, only Kenyon and the College of Wooster require a senior exercise to graduate. For Wooster’s students, their senior exercise is a period of independent study.

While a student’s senior exercises may not always occur in the same semester if they double major, there is occasionally overlap between the two exercises. If two departments’ exams fall on the exact same date, the department provides alternative dates for students who need them.

This modification, along with the ability to meet with advisors and department chairs, seems to be the only form of administrative support for double majors. Students are required to have an advisor for each major they pursue. “I wish I could have known earlier where to find more concrete resources about the respective senior exercises, because that information is out there and it wasn’t until this year that I knew where to find it,” Julia Lindsay ’18, who is both a women’s and gender studies and Spanish area studies major, wrote in an email to the Collegian.

Lindsay recently dropped her psychology major. She did so for a variety of reasons, including her course schedule and the senior exercise. Although she was sad to leave the psychology department, she switched to a women’s and gender studies major, which she was already close to earning. “I had been pursuing [the women’s and gender studies major] out of interest without realizing it,” Lindsay wrote in an email to the Collegian. Her story is familiar to many Kenyon students.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Simon Garcia does not recommend that students double major. “I have reviewed job applications for both technology and academic positions, and I was never impressed by a double major,” Garcia wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Usually the reason an advisee gives [for double majoring] is they want to study another subject in depth. But my reply is that you can take classes to get to that depth without majoring — and without contorting your schedule and your life in the process.”

The English major senior exercise requires that majors take a two-part exam based on a reading list, which changes every year, as well as a senior seminar class. Associate Professor of English and Department Chair Sarah Heidt does not believe that the English senior exam is what keeps people from double majoring.

“I haven’t had anybody come to me and say that they can’t major in English because the comps are a beast, and I can only handle one beast in my senior year,” she said.

Instead, Heidt said that people often drop majors due to “a shift in the [student’s] interests, where they wanted to focus their senior year,” particularly when it came to pursuing honors in one of the student’s majors. However, Heidt acknowledged that two comprehensive exams can be daunting.

In terms of further support for double majors, Lindsay suggested that double majors and their advisors have separate meetings with groups such as the Center for Global Engagement. “Navigating abroad and course credit was one of the more difficult elements of my experience and I arrived back to Kenyon with much less completed than I initially thought,” Lindsay wrote.

Buss said that increasing the number of minors could be helpful for students. Currently, Kenyon offers 30 majors and 25 minors, not including the seven interdisciplinary majors or the 13 concentrations. In contrast, Oberlin College offers 50 majors and 42 minors, as well as a variety of concentrations not listed on their website.

Many double majors who end up dropping one of their majors can instead earn a minor in that department. Backing out of senior comps then becomes less nerve-wracking for students, as one can still earn a minor without taking comprehensive exams. “Luckily the English department offers a minor, so I am able to have a reflection of the work I put in and my enjoyment of the material,” Buss wrote.

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