Introductionary college classes: mostly majors or non-majors

BTW, I still have one of my undergrad course catalogues lying around, so I checked the requirements for a physics major (I assume that counts as a hard science). 38 credits in physics + 17 in math = two years of full time enrollment. Eight of the math credits were intro-level calculus, and I’d assume most people intending to major in physics would come in with AP credit for calculus anyway.

Ex CS prof here.

First, I was never happy with freshmen having majors. Some colleges don’t even allow them to declare a major until sophomore year. So I ignored people’s stated major in intro courses.

Even if you don’t agree with this, I want to point out how “fuzzy” the notion of major is for early courses.

CS has at times been incredibly popular as a major. And the number of people fit for it is quite low. So at one place our goal was a 50% drop rate during the first year sequence and another 50% drop for Data Structures (the first “true” CS course). And more down the line. Are the people we are sending elsewhere CS majors or not? From our perspective, well over 75% of the “majors” on day one Freshman year are actually non-majors who don’t know it yet.

In other regards, for example at my undergraduate school, most Sciences had two tracks for intro course. One for majors and one for non-majors. E.g., in Physics the major Intro course assumed the student was taking Calculus. But still, even in that course maybe 20% at best were Physics majors. Most were in other Sciences which required them to take the more rigorous course.

As to teaching majors vs. non-majors. Majors by a million miles. They wanted (more or less) to be there. The non-majors mostly didn’t. That makes a huge difference in all aspects of teaching.

My undergrad’s CS department solved this by having a “pre-major”. People coming in were allowed to declare a CS pre-major. This gave them preferential enrollment in CS courses and access to the labs, but they couldn’t take upper division courses yet. After completing some of the basic courses (intro to programming, discrete math, etc) they could apply for the major. If they got a “B” or above in all basic CS courses, as well as their calc and/or linear algebra courses they got auto-admitted. Otherwise they had to write an essay about… something to be considered for admission (I was auto-admitted so I don’t know what the essay entailed).

At the very least, you’re going to have to be taking those math courses right from the start, since each one builds on the one before. The majors won’t be coming in with AP credit for those courses, either, since AP credit often isn’t counted for subjects too close to your major. The physics courses had better be spread out, too, since many of them are only offered 1/year or every other year, some build on others, and it may not be possible to schedule them all into two years. And you won’t be able to get all of your general education requirements in the first two years, either, since many of those have prerequisites or other requirements. You may, if you’re lucky, be able to get AP credit for some of your general education courses, but that depends on exact match of subject: For instance, I had a high enough score in AP US History to qualify, but my college required World History, so that test didn’t do me any good.

Put it all together, and it may be possible to only start on the major in junior year, but it’s going to be extraordinarily rare.

Depends on what you mean by “major-specific”. I had to take something like 30 credits in my actual major, and an additional 30 credits in courses that qualified as “science” to get a BS (or I could have taken those 30 credits in electives and gotten a BA) . If I had known that I wanted to major in a social science but not which one, I could have taken a variety of social science courses in my first two years and chosen a major at the beginning of the third. Not all majors are set up so that required courses must be taken in a particular order- for example, in my major, I had to take Introduction to Psychology before any other psychology courses and Statistics before Experimental Psychology but those were literally the only three required courses. The rest of the requirements were of the “choose one (or two ) of the following courses” sort - and there were always options where the pre-requisite was either introductory psychology or “any nine credits in psychology”

Oh yes, absolutely. As I said, it would have been vanishingly rare and almost certainly inadvisable for someone to declare a major in a field in which they had never taken a college-level course. I’m just saying I don’t think it is true that most majors require more than two years of coursework in terms of credit hour count alone; 36-42 hours is about standard in my experience at several different institutions.

I’m actually kind of shocked that you can get a major with as few as 20 required courses!

I looked back on my course calender for my engineering degree and I had 33 assigned courses, plus 4 technical electives that I could pick from a list of ~12. I only had space in my schedule for 5 real electives.

Poking around on the university website it looks like some of the Arts and Math people have only 20ish required courses for the major. I knew the engineers were rigidly scheduled compared to the other faculties but I didn’t think the difference was that huge.

Accounting was like that. Accounting 101 is required for all Business majors (though not all Business majors are Accounting majors). Of those that had declared Accounting majors - about half didn’t graduate with them - they got general business degrees, or marketing, or HR, or something less numbers intensive (and Accounting is not very numbers intensive - but enough, and with enough rules and process, that not everyone is successful at it). I’d imagine Finance, which is somewhat more arcane than Accounting, was worse for 101 “majors” not making it through upper division coursework and ending up moving to business administration.

By the way - an Accounting major at my alma mater is six foundation courses (Micro and Macro Econ, Stats, College Algebra, Financial Accounting, and an IT overview course), another 5 business core courses (Marketing, Logistics, Management, Finance, and another IT course and only 7 courses in your major (plus the Financial Accounting that is foundational).