Incoming students at Ithaca College who join the Exploratory Program will be required to choose a school concentration so they can explore programs within a known interest.
The Exploratory Program will no longer continue to enroll students as a general exploratory major. Now they will choose a school to explore — what the program is now calling pathways. The program offers the Business Pathways; the Humanities, Art, and Social Sciences Pathways; the Park (Communications) Pathways; the Pre-Health Professions Program and the Science, Math, and Computing Pathways.
Current exploratory students will remain general exploratory students and will not be able to choose a pathway. Incoming students will still be able to take classes outside the school they choose a pathway in and will be able to change pathways.
Senior Ellen Chapman is currently the Exploratory Peer Ambassadors and Leaders coordinator and is a former exploratory major.
Students who apply to the program will choose the pathway that they are most interested in on their applications, making the application process more catered to their interests.
“With the opportunity to come in as a pathway, people could have more specific areas to explore, and ultimately, it saves a lot of students from changing majors if they were encouraged to be more general in their first year,” Chapman said.
Maria DiFrancesco, director of the Exploratory Program and professor in the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures, said via email that the changes reflect the mission of the program as a whole.
“The expansion and related changes will help all of us reframe our mindsets — especially for first-year students — around what it means to explore,” DiFrancesco said. “There is a very misguided notion that a student who is undeclared is lost or confused. But our students have never been undeclared.”
She said this addition to the program will hopefully decrease the number of students who experience regret from deciding a major too early. According to 2021 data from a Federal Reserve survey, 38% of adults who have completed some level of higher education said they would now choose a different field of study.
“I want to emphasize that this expansion or morphing is poised to most significantly help students who, in past years, would have started out in a declared major,” DiFrancesco said. “Currently, for example, a first-year, second semester student in a “wrong” major will come to see me in a panic or feeling depressed.”
According to the Office of Analytics and Institutional Research, in Fall 2022, 261 students were enrolled as an exploratory major. In 2020 there were two students who had an undeclared major but there have been none since.
DiFrancesco said she believes that the new pathways will increase student success.
“I am personally hoping that changes help us build momentum toward increasing student success and retention,” DiFrancesco said. “Students who purposefully come in as explorers and who are supported in a process of guided self-discovery can focus on honing their academic strengths and figuring out their interests and goals.”
Sydney Smith, an incoming Park Pathways student in the Class of 2027, said that choosing a major was a daunting task as an 18-year-old.
“I love the specific pathways and after attending an accepted students day, I decided to major in Park Pathways because I know I’m interested in things like marketing and communications, but I don’t know exactly what career I can see myself pursuing,” Smith said.
Samuel Turin, an incoming Park Pathways student in the Class of 2027, said he was interested in several majors in the Roy H. Park School of Communications, but was not sure which he wanted to major in.
“I like how Park Pathways is a little sampling that you can experiment and see which ones you like,” Turin said. “If you know you want to be involved in media and communications, this is a more specific but still generalized program.”
Senior Riley Garand, a communications management and design major, said he knew he wanted to go into communications as a first-year student but wanted to learn an array of skills, which is one reason he said he would have liked to have a pathway. He said he chose CMD because of the variety of topics it included, like business strategy and communications.
“The Park Pathway program, I would have chosen [it] right away as a freshman because it allows you to figure out different paths that work best for you within the Park school,” Garand said.
Kristen McBride ’21, former PALs coordinator and exploratory student, said she found her love for business through the exploratory program. She said she eventually chose a business major because she felt it integrated many of the aspects of programs in other schools.
“I think it has been really challenging over the years to master how students can explore over 150 majors in such a short time, so being able to narrow it down to a specific school is really important,” McBride said.
Maeven Cattanach, an incoming Park Pathways student in the Class of 2027, said she just knew she wanted to do something in communications, so choosing a pathway was the perfect option.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what specifically I wanted to do but knew I wanted to be in communications,” Cattanach said. “I heard about the exploratory program and was interested in trying out all of the options versus diving into one I wasn’t sure I would even love.”
Although the pathways will allow students to concentrate their interests, Chapman said that it could cause some students to feel pressure during their application processes.
“I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to pursue, and a pathway would have been another decision for me that I probably would have found really difficult,” Chapman said. “It has its pros and cons, but I have been told that students will still be able to take classes in other schools.”
The update to the Exploratory Program will not have an impact on current exploratory students.
“Most of the current students have already taken exploring the options, and they have their advisors, so they’re set up to keep going,” Chapman said. “For incoming students, I think it’s really great. More students who feel really drawn to an area might choose a pathway rather than just being exploratory.”
Assistant News Editor Noa Ran-Ressler contributed reporting.