I’m well aware of the lack of vocal representation on external transfer students’ behalf. Considering UT can only accept a limited amount from the applicant pool, it’s expected that admissions spots are primarily reserved for internal transfer. Therefore, I can only speak on behalf of myself and my own experience with UT’s internal transfer system. Despite that, external transfers having significantly diluted admission rates in comparison to internal transfers should not be understated.
Recently, YouTube recommended a viral video on a freshman undergraduate’s first day experience being at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). While the majority of the video came within my expectations, one brief statement that did catch my eye was their First-Year Friendly (FYF) Initiative. A program put together by MIT’s Advising and Professional Development department to better ease freshman undergraduates through their first-year in college.
MIT’s academic programs accommodate their first-year students with a variety of ways to complete their core subjects with first-year learning communities that are also pursuing the same academic pathways. Furthermore, students are allowed to freely explore their interests in combinations of STEM and social science courses–with the goal of fully developing their primary field-of-study by sophomore year.
This may sound oddly similar to UT Austin’s First-Year Interest Group (FIG) program and that’s because it is. However, there is one crucial difference between MIT’s “FYF” and UT Austin’s “FIG”, and it’s that first-year students at MIT are not punished for exploring their interests. To elaborate, first-year students at MIT are graded on a pass or no-record basis. Their first-year grading policy indicates that they receive grades of a P, D, or F in all subjects they take–where P indicates C or better performance and D or F indicates no credit which does not appear on their transcripts. It’s designed to better ease the transition from highschool by accommodating students with an adjusted mindset and without being discouraged to explore their interests.
Now for the big question, how does any of this have to do with UT’s internal transfer system? It’s because they do a poor job at accommodating freshman students with their desired field-of-study, leading them into changing majors in an increasingly hostile transfer system. In essence, their lack of attentiveness for freshman undergraduates is the root cause of why so many incoming freshmans are discouraged to stay at UT Austin.
Let me put this into perspective, freshmen students in their first term are expected to take a FIG, a set of classes designed to patch out their core-curriculum. Although you can switch out of a FIG curriculum, students are often discouraged to do so as they will have to take it later down the road. Typically FIG courses are designed for that particular department (College of Liberal Arts emphasizes on social sciences while College of Natural Sciences has mathematics and physical sciences). However, being in a particular department that doesn’t offer the specialized courses across other departments makes it much more difficult if you desire to change majors later. Most first-year students do not have a concrete plan in what they want to study, either lacking crucial guidance to plan ahead or overwhelmed by the hectic transition.
I was put into that position my freshman year, auto-admitted into the College of Liberal Arts, where I took the FIG alongside prerequisites with intentions of internally transferring into engineering. I did not know that meeting the prerequisites–four technical courses in math and sciences–will not guarantee admission to transfer into the college of engineering. That was when I first felt a disconnect about the university and its first-year students, and it’s not because I was discouraged. Rather, I was concerned by how many dreams the school shattered because students were simply not offered their desired field of study. It’s to say the university itself decides what you “get” to study instead of allowing the student to freely choose what they “want” to study.
Being in a particular department means you do not receive crucial academic advising from other college departments. If I would have known this information prior to throwing numerous chances at a major where I had a slim chance of being admitted into, I would have directed my attention elsewhere. Instead, many freshmen–like myself–took numerous prerequisite classes with the intention to study in a desired field but were turned off by the effort and time we wasted.
UT Austin is an enormous public-ivy level school, and with prestige comes competition–I get that. However, many students worked their entire high school years (such as myself) just to be admitted into UT Austin; only to then be put off by situations outside of their control.
My Advice For Improvement
Considering the root cause for degree change is being indecisive, expanding on the FIG program to be cross-departmental would encourage students to explore interests regardless of which FIG department they end up deciding on. Having “undeclared” as the default major for all first-year students gives them time to adjust to the increased workload and meet prerequisites that are requirements for admissions to certain college departments. The University could tailor the FIG course to accommodate students for their initial interests with an end goal for students to conclude on a field-of-study by their 2nd semester. The University should adapt the MIT first-year grading policy so students are not punished for taking classes outside of their comfort zones and are allowed to better decide on interests themselves.
Since college is a business, I will take a business perspective for the internal transfer problem. The University could expand on the Coordinated Admission Program (CAP) by outsourcing to other college campuses across Texas. This diverts the competition to allow more space for admissions on the main campus. Diluting the amount of incoming applicants does decrease admission rates to UT. It gives priority to more-than-qualified applicants, and it would prolong attendance for less-than-qualified applicants. However, it comes with the mutual benefit of both groups having classroom space in their desired major. This may be controversial but allocating more department space to in-demand majors is an effective way to cut down on less-than-desirable majors. By converting these majors to minors, the University can maximize the yield of current spaces available and trim down the fat (empty classrooms). Lastly, the University can take a more holistic approach to the UT Automatic Admission Decisions program. High Schools up to a certain number of students–a class of 50 students versus 500 students–should not be weighted the same way for automatic admissions. In that case,there should be a clear line drawn for that 6% auto-admission and public high school applicants that are below that threshold (e.g top 6% of a senior class of only 70 students) would not be granted auto-admission.