Recruiting Undergraduate Majors

As graduate teaching assistants, we have the opportunity to throw wide the glorious doors of political science to eager, bright undergrads. Through the brilliant lectures of our esteemed faculty, the scintillating discussion of our recitation sections and the combination of both for those of us helming our own courses, we hope students will discard the yoke of undeclared-ness and join our ranks for the rest of their undergraduate career.

There are definitely some students who seek poli-sci major-dom on their own,  but many others may need some encouragement (“hey, you’re good at this”), more information (“here’s what you can do with a political science degree”) or plain old persuasion (“insert best argument here”).

Department Chair Beth Theiss-Morse informed me today that our department has seen an increase in majors of 26% over the last 10 years, compared to the status quo maintained by the College of Arts and Sciences as a whole. More majors increases enrollment which drives up demand for more classes and sections which drives demand for more faculty and graduate students. You can see where I’m going with this. It is in all of our interests to strengthen our department – starting with undergraduate majors and minors. But it’s not just for us – helping a student find a chosen area of study or future career path is another worthy goal.

And it doesn’t take a lot of time – if a student is a lively discussion participant, writes good arguments or seems generally interested in the subject, pull them aside and ask about their academic/career plans. Walk them back to the department and introduce them to Marica White, our undergraduate advisor. Talk to them about your research or the work of faculty members. When you see them around campus in the future, ask how things are going, which classes are they taking, etc.

I set a personal goal of recruiting at least two new political science majors per semester (I realize this is easier when teaching in a 100-level course). Now I’m not calling for a contest of any sort (unless any of you are interested :), but I do encourage all of you to consider becoming more intentional with your recruitment efforts.

For those of you with scores of teaching experience, do have any additional tips or advice on attracting undergrads to our department?

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5 Responses to Recruiting Undergraduate Majors

  1. Tina Mueller Zappile says:

    I have no idea if this worked or not, but I have used sections of an intro course as teasers for higher level courses. This means referring to specific upcoming courses “if they are really interested in ________ topic” and want to learn more. Several students asked me about the major using the courses I mentioned in class as a starting point for their questions. I also know of a few who registered for upcoming courses based on those suggestions. Make sure you know what the upcoming courses are and who teaches them- talk about them with a little excitement, it goes a long way.

    It also helps to mention student organizations affiliated with political science. Though there could be more of those to mention in the first place… an active Model UN (it may be active now, not sure) would have been fantastic when I taught 160. Amnesty is a good one to mention for IR.

  2. In my experience, just writing a comment on a paper helps to turn students to the dark side. There were several students last semester (especially journalism students) whose papers demonstrated a lot of potential; I would often write something along the lines of “This is a really good paper; ever thought about being a political science major/minor?” It worked when I was an undergrad..

    I’ve had one student who did incredibly well in my intro recitations. Now that he is taking more polisci classes he checks up with me from time to time to ask about research questions, graduate studies, etc. In addition, I think it helps for them to have contact with those of us who are still in the process of advancing our studies.. kind of a real world look at academia.

  3. Jake says:

    Going on organizations, anything we can do to help PSA will be good. When I was an undergrad, PSA was one of the strongest academic organizations on campus, and I’m sure that helped recruit and retain majors.

  4. Amanda says:

    I know nothing about PSA – when do they meet? What do they do? Who’s in charge? We probably should have a more formal connection between them and grad students – probably a project for our budding grad association.

  5. Mike Wagner says:

    I’m the PSA facutly advisor. I’d love to talk with you all about what we do. Maybe we could do a brown bag later this spring.

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