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New Tools Help Prospective Students Find Paths

As part of an initiative to improve four-year graduation rates, the university has launched a set of interactive tools to help prospective students evaluate their readiness for college-level instruction and select a major. The School of Undergraduate Studies has contributed one of three “wayfinding modules,” which expose applicants to myths about selected majors, sample math and statistics problems and actual writing prompts and samples for courses ranging from engineering to journalism. The Undergraduate Writing Center and the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics and Scientific Computation contributed the other two modules.

Undergraduate Studies’s module focuses on major exploration. Applicants also get their first taste of Wayfinder, an interactive site that assists prospective, admitted, and current students in choosing an academic major. Wayfinder offers self assessments to help students identify their interests, skills, and values; houses in-depth information on UT majors and certificate programs; and features career profiles of successful professionals in different industries.

Wayfinder Log In Page
Applicant log-in screen to the Undergraduate Studies module, one of three new tools aimed at all undergraduate applicants

“This is an opportunity to provide a formative experience that will help students decide what they will be intellectually and begin to take ownership of their college experience,” said David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment management and the university’s graduation rate champion.

“Helping students make the right match for their course of study is a critical component of improving student success and satisfaction, as well as an important tool for the university to manage enrollment,” he said. “The goal is to help students make decisions based on their strengths and true interests, rather than making choices that will result in them transferring to other schools or out of the university after just a few semesters.”

Wayfinder Pages
Students gain in-depth information about majors (left) or explore using games (right). This game asks students to guess the college majors of successful adults.

Currently, every applicant to the university is required to select a first- and second-choice major. Although applicants may choose to remain “undecided,” the vast majority select preferred majors, with many qualified applicants picking oversubscribed majors such as chemical engineering, accounting and nursing, to which admission can be difficult.

A third of students change schools within the university during their tenure, and many more switch majors within their original school.

Wayfinder Majors Screenshot
Students can save ideas about major interests for later. This organizational list connects to Wayfinder’s comprehensive information about every major offered at UT Austin. Students are required to list at least three choices.

Although the university has made significant strides in placing students in majors after admission, inter-school transfers can contribute to delays in timely graduation. The university has set a goal of raising its four-year graduation rate to 70 percent by 2016; the current rate is 52 percent.

“Many high school students make choices about their course of study in a vacuum—‘I’m good at science, so I should be an engineer. I make good grades in English, so I should be an English major.’—without always having a sense of what that takes or what some of the other academic options are,” said Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions. “These new tools give them a better idea of what they are getting into, as well as what academic choices might help them prepare for college in their senior year. Ultimately, student satisfaction with their choice of major increases motivation as well as the likelihood of student success.”

All prospective applicants are urged to complete the modules. However, the results are not used in the admissions process. Access to the modules is limited to those with a university electronic ID, which students are assigned as they begin the application process through the Be A Longhorn website.

Story based on a UT Austin press release