Since the Wilson School is selective and has admitted 90 students every year since 1995, this large disparity is partially to be expected. Yet it also raises questions as to what students who fail to get accepted to the School ultimately study and how the end of selective admissions next year will affect the departments which cater to similar intellectual interests, such as politics, economics and history.
One of the most common major choices for students who do not gain admission into the Wilson School is politics. Nolan McCarty, the chair of the politics department, acknowledged that many of the students who said they wanted to major in the Wilson School when entering the University ultimately decide to major in politics. However, he said that he did not feel this was mainly due to the fact that these students were not accepted into the Wilson School.
“For the most part, at least according to the sophomore and senior surveys, this was not due to the fact that the students were not getting into the Wilson School, but because they actually changed their mind and decided politics was better for them,” McCarty said.
He also said he felt that the prominence of the Wilson School made it more appealing to students as a potential major, but students were more likely to switch majors out of interest after exploring different courses during their first two years.
As the former Associate Dean of the Wilson School, McCarty also co-led the committee that ultimately made the decision to end selective admission for the Wilson School last year.
“One of the things which bothered the committee was that the Wilson School program lacked a kind of structure and was essentially a ‘design-your-own’ major,” he said.
According to McCarty, one of the things the committee observed was that most admitted Wilson School majors “ended up essentially getting politics degrees. This was harmful not just to the Wilson School, but also to the politics department,” he said.
To that end, in addition to eliminating selective admissions, the school also worked to revamp the curriculum and prerequisites for students majoring in or planning to major in the Wilson School.
“We wanted to make sure that a degree from the Wilson School is no longer just a political science degree, but an interdisciplinary degree in public policy,” McCarty said.
Student satisfaction also played a role in the end of selective admission to the Wilson School. When the committee started looking at the admission process, they also consulted alumni, who were split in their opinions. While some felt very strongly that selectivity should be preserved, others wanted it to end, McCarty said.
The decision, however, came down to the junior and senior surveys, in which the committee found that students who did not get admitted to the Wilson School were more dissatisfied with their University experience than those who did.
The impact of the end of selective admission on enrollment numbers in other departments was discussed in the decision-making process, although it was not the driving force behind the decision.
“We had to think about what would happen if all the 160 students who applied to the School would major in it, but apart from that, we also had to look at additional numbers for students who might have liked to major in the Wilson School but did not apply,” McCarty said.
Representatives from the Wilson School did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding the School’s plan to meet a potential increase in enrollment numbers.
Of particular concern to the committee, too, were the potential side effects of the policy on the history and economics departments.
Alec Dun, the department representative for the history department, said that it was difficult to speculate just yet on how much they would be impacted by the end of selective admission to the Wilson School.
“While it is true that every year, some of our enrollment is made up of students who did not get into the Wilson School, we also have students who did get in and decide to major in history,” he said.
Dun said that he believes that the back-and-forth in enrollment balances out the numbers. Regarding the end of selective admissions at the Wilson School, Dun said that the history department has so far not discussed the possibility of a change in their enrollment numbers.
During events held by Major Choices, an initiative to encourage students to major in smaller departments, departments such as politics and history get questions about differences between their programs and the program in the Wilson School, Dun said. He explained that he does try his best to explain the differences between history and other disciplines.
“My main focus is on getting those students into the department who would be happiest here,” he said.
The change of curriculum in the Wilson School came close on the heels of a change in the curriculum in the economics department, which increased its math requirements for the Class of 2015. McCarty said that the committee was unaware of the decision being made by the economics department, but said that he felt the increased math requirement would have pushed some students toward the Wilson School and the politics department.
Representatives from the economics department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
With the end of selective admission and the changes to the curriculum, McCarty said that the committee felt the enrollment numbers in the Wilson School and other departments would balance out.