Two students in a dorm room laughing

New to CWRU Week 3: Explore your interests—and be flexible

The start of a new academic year is always a cause for celebration. For the newest Case Western Reserve University students, it is an exciting—albeit uncertain—time. As the members of the Class of 2027 make their way to campus this month, we’re sure they have plenty of questions as they begin their journeys. To help the Class of 2027 and new transfer students start the year with confidence, we’re sharing advice from upperclass students, orientation leaders, and staff and faculty members throughout the month. And who knows? Even seasoned members of the CWRU community might learn something new.

Whether you’re coming to campus with your future plans already mapped out or you want to get a taste of different subjects before committing to a major, you have options at Case Western Reserve University.

Have a change of heart and want to switch your major down the line? You won’t be stuck. Want to deepen your understanding in different fields? You can customize your academic plan with a double major, secondary major or minor. Ready to bolster your credentials? Consider earning a graduate degree during your undergraduate years through an Integrated Graduate Study program. 

“Do not limit yourself to one path,” said Toluwalase Akintola, a second-year student and orientation leader majoring in neuroscience. “Be open to exploring and learning about the unknown. That is the best way you can allow yourself to grow.”

And if it becomes a bit unsettling? 

“It can feel really overwhelming comparing your own undergraduate experience to others, especially when you are still deciding what you want to major in,” said Mira Schwarz, a second-year student and orientation leader majoring in nursing. “Try to remember that everyone is on their own journey and it is OK to not know exactly what you want to do—it takes time!”

We spoke with the four-year advising team to help you assuage any fears you may have as you begin your undergraduate career. Rebecca Benard, senior advisor to the provost and senior instructor and Peter Whiting, interim vice president of student affairs, shared their insights.

Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: What would you say to a student who is hesitant to commit to a major?

A: With the exception of a few programs, students at CWRU do not need to commit to a major right away. This provides time for students to explore disciplines before declaring. Under the new Unified General Equation Requirement, beginning this fall, first-year students will need to declare near the end of their second term of enrollment. Faculty decided that students should declare sooner rather than later to ensure that students are connected with a team of advisors who can assist them with general and discipline specific academic support.  

If a student finds themselves hesitant about their major, even when it’s time to declare, that’s OK! Students change their major as their interests evolve and change. 

Q: What advice would you give to students who aren’t really sure what they want to do?

A: Undecided? Not sure what they want to do? How exciting! One of the best aspects of the college experience is exploration: academically, personally and professionally. If a student is unsure of their academic and career path, we would encourage first-year students, with guidance from their advisors, to register for classes across disciplines and participate in a variety of activities. Students should reflect and think about their experiences. What classes and extracurricular activities are they enjoying? What’s not for them? 

If a student orients in the direction of what intrinsically motivates them (and not what others expect of them), they are successful and happier humans, in general. 

Q: How is CWRU prepared to help students explore their academic interests?

A: The new Unified General Education Requirement (UGER) affords all undergraduate students the flexibility to explore academic interests through breadth—courses across disciplines—that helps build various skills: communication, quantitative reasoning and wellness, to name a few. Students also engage with various perspectives that critically address areas such as moral and ethical reasoning, human diversity and commonality, to name a few. 

The UGER includes “Explore,” whereby students will participate in a wide range of academic programming events, university resources and activities, and with neighboring cultural institutions to support student intellectual and social growth. Many general education courses fulfill major and minor requirements, thus providing a cohesive and integrated academic experience for students.

Depending on the major (and possibly minor) program the student chooses, there are also discipline-specific opportunities to explore, such as independent research, internships, co-ops, etc. Students who work closely with their team of advisors are able to explore their interests and aptitudes and graduate in four years. 

Q: Overall, what would you say to new students as they start their undergraduate journey?

A: One of my previous students, who I [Benard] advised all four years, entered CWRU as a nursing student, switched to pre-med, completed all of her pre-med requirements (including studying for the MCAT), and then decided the summer before her senior year that what she really wanted to do was research mental health in college student populations. She graduated in four years from CWRU, top of her class, and entered a doctoral program in psychology. Three months ago, I attended her dissertation defense.

A straight path? No way. Her path? Yes. 

So, what I would say to new students—or rather what I wish for all new students—is that they give themselves latitude and permission to be true to themselves. College is not always a straight path. It can be a labyrinth with twists and turns. You are in a community that is here to support you.

Welcome to your journey.