Why Vanderbilt doesn’t have pre-professional majors

Vanderbilt administrators discuss business, journalism, pre-med, pre-law, and make-your-own majors

Freshman Kelly Champagne always figured she would major in business in college. That wasn’t an option for her at Vanderbilt, though.

“Because there was no business major at Vandy, I had to do my research to find the closest thing,” she said. “I ended up in HOD, and I have loved it, but it is definitely a different path than majoring in business would have been.”

For years, Vanderbilt undergraduates have been asking why there is no business major at the university. Many students who want to pursue a business career have settled for a major in Human and Organizational Development or Economics, or a minor in Managerial Studies.

Business is not the only sought-after major Vanderbilt doesn’t offer. Other common student requests are journalism and pre-law or pre-med majors. Coursework in these specific career areas doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon, though.

“Vanderbilt is a traditional liberal arts education,” said Professor and Associate Provost for Digital Learning John Sloop. “We are going to provide the students with a top-notch, world-class liberal arts education where they understand how to communicate and they understand what’s important to communicate.”

Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Science Yollette Jones feels that pre-professional and career-oriented majors simply aren’t necessary at Vanderbilt.

“The College of Arts & Science has approximately 50 existing majors and 50 existing minors in which they have invested tremendous resources,” she said. “These areas of study are examined and improved upon routinely by faculty who are knowledgeable about those disciplines and willing to share with students the benefits of their cutting edge research.”

How does Vanderbilt compare to other to other top colleges in terms of pre-professional majors, though? Of the 17 schools that rank the same or higher than Vanderbilt in the U.S. World and News Report rankings, nine offer a business major, five offer a business minor and The University of Chicago has a career training program that students interested in business can complete. Vanderbilt is just now in the process of making an official minor in business, which will become available to students in the fall. Currently, the school offers two minors in managerial studies, financial economics and corporate strategy, which bear similarities to business.

Only two of these schools have a pre-med (or equivalent) major, while one has a minor and another has joint degree option. Vanderbilt has opted to offer tailored advising to pre-med students through the Health Professions Advisory Office. According to their 2016 report, 67 percent of pre-med Vanderbilt undergraduates were accepted to medical school, which is 25 percent above the national average.

Three of the top universities have a pre-law (or equivalent) major, two have a minor and one has a career training program. Of the top 15 universities, only Northwestern has a journalism major and only one school has a minor, while four offer some sort of journalism coursework or career training. This training can consist of seminars by professors and alumni in the field, as well as specialized coaching from the universities’ career centers.

A number of these institutions also allow students to create their own interdisciplinary majors. Of the eighteen schools ranked at fifteen or above, fifteen advertised this possibility. Vanderbilt is one of those fifteen, and Jones oversees the interdisciplinary major process. The procedure is lengthy, but allows students the freedom to customize their studies here at Vanderbilt.

The College of Arts & Science has 21 existing interdisciplinary majors. In order to declare a self-designed major, students must follow the guidelines posted on the College of Arts & Science’s website. They require one to compile a list of 48 credit hours which they feel are important to the interdisciplinary studies, and then provide a written rationale for the courses selected. The student’s faculty advisor must then sign off on the course list.

Upon completing this process, the student should reach out to the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and ask to schedule an appointment with the appropriate dean. Requests for self-designed majors are reviewed and approved by a faculty committee.

Some student-designed majors have even become mainstream at Vanderbilt in the past several years.

The most common established interdisciplinary majors in A&S are Medicine, Health, and Society, Neuroscience, Public Policy Studies, and Economics and History,” Jones said.

All of these majors were once designed by Vanderbilt students who sought something different than the majors available to them. After being approved, each of them then became so popular among students that they are now listed as options on Vanderbilt’s “Find Your Major” page on the Undergraduate Admissions website.

Ultimately, there are a variety of options at Vanderbilt for students who hope to work in business, journalism, medicine, law and other fields without a major at Vanderbilt.

“I like what we do here,” Sloop said. “I’m confident that the education our students receive here makes them top-notch.”

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