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Major declaration proceeds amidst pandemic for second year

During the first week of Spring Term, members of the Class of 2023 declared their majors – another annual ritual being interrupted for the second time by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, amid the excitement, the effects of the past year’s disruptions shone through.

Last spring saw 486 sixth-term sophomores declare a major, and the prior spring, 491 sophomores declared. This year, that number was slightly lower at 458 – perhaps due to an increased number of students taking one or more terms off during the pandemic. These off-track sophomores will declare next academic year whenever their sixth term falls.

Despite the smaller pool, Computer Science and Biology posted some of their strongest numbers ever, coming in as the top two majors with 70 and 67 students declaring this spring, respectively. 

Rounding out the top five were Chemistry with 34 new majors, Economics with 32 and Political Science / International Relations with 30. 

The newly declared members of the Class of 2023 represent 28 different majors in all.

The Geology department saw a low turnout this year, an effect that Department Chair Cameron Davidson attributes to the pandemic. While the department has in recent years counted 15 to 25 majors or so per graduating class, this spring saw just six students declare. Although this figure may later be boosted by off-track students and double major declarations, the effect remains notable to Davidson.

“We were expecting a drop this year, but we were a bit surprised by how much,” Davidson said. The department has been forced to offer fewer introductory sections this past year due to the pandemic, and at lower capacities, he explained.  

“Also, our introductory course labs typically rely on getting students out in the field using vans to learn the local geology,” he said.  But the pandemic has put a stop to this type of engagement.

“Bottom line, we can’t wait until we can get back into the field and classroom with our students and in person,” Davidson said.

The Mathematics and Statistics department also saw a dip in majors this year, with 18 students declaring a math major this spring. The department has typically seen around 40 math majors per graduating class. Department Chair Katie St. Clair, however, cautioned against reading too much into a one-year decrease. She noted that the cohort will increase in size as students declare double majors—a path that between one-fourth and one-third of upperclassmen in the department are currently pursuing.

Biology Department Chair Daniel Hernández, meanwhile, reflected on the high turnout in his department this year. “Biology has always been a popular major at Carleton and we enjoy the diversity of perspectives, interests and experiences that our majors bring to the department,” he said.

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