Students weigh pros and cons of apply-in programs and majors

Sunday, January 21, 2018 - 6:59pm

LSA sophomore Amanda Wasserman was nearly in tears as she hit the submit button. A stressful and overwhelming process had led up to this moment — she had just submitted her application to pursue an undergraduate degree in the School of Public Health. After taking a public health class and learning about various health crises, Wasserman dismissed thoughts of going into medicine and instead was sold on the broader impact of public health. But not everyone is accepted into the program.

Wasserman is one of many University of Michigan students applying into a major or program for their upper level coursework. Students must apply to get into undergraduate programs in more than nine schools at the University, including the School of Public Health, Ford School of Public Policy, School of Information and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Certain LSA majors, such as Organizational Studies or the Politics, Philosophy and Economics major, also require applications.

The application deadlines for most apply-in programs fall 2018 class are due throughout January and February. Students will receive notice of their acceptance later in the winter semester.

Many apply-in programs require students to take multiple prerequisite classes to be considered for a spot. The Public Policy School requires students take Economics 101 and 102, a race and ethnicity course and an introductory social science course. The Public Health School requires Public Health 200, Statistics 250, a natural science, social science, a first-year writing class and humanities or creative expression class. Some students have naturally fulfilled these requirements throughout their first two years; however, many students go out of their way to take these courses specifically to be considered for their desired program.

Students also take certain courses in subjects they may not feel passionate about simply to qualify. Due to the fact these programs are highly selective, many students complete these requirements and do not receive admission into their desired program. LSA sophomore Caleb Hogeterp worries if he does not get admitted to the Public Health School, he has wasted valuable time taking certain courses.

“I am taking classes this semester that don't let me get anywhere if I don’t get in, so if I don’t get in it is kind of a step back,” Hogeterp said.

In the case of public health, many students don’t have exposure to what public health is and what it encompasses before coming to the University. Taking these prerequisite courses allows students to understand what they are getting into. Wasserman said if she was given the option to apply in high school to a pre-admit program, she wouldn’t have even known what public health was.

Emily Youatt, clinical assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the Public Health School, said in an email interview that knowledge of public health is critical to the application.

“The invisibility of public health can make it difficult to recognize and describe,” Youatt wrote. “Asking students to describe their interest in public health confirms that students who apply to the program understand that public health is about understanding population-level health and its determinants – factors visible and unseen that affect the public’s health.”

The average class size for many of these programs is relatively small compared to the entire class at the University. For the Public Policy School, the average size is 55 to 65 students, while the inaugural cohort for the School of Public Health was 95 students. Youatt expected the next admitted class to be a similar size. The purpose of the smaller cohort of students is to have the most motivated and passionate students in the same environment; however, it affects the students applying.

For students applying to their majors, the process puts stress on students even after gaining acceptance into the University.

“It’s very frustrating (because) I got into Michigan, and we’ve been accepted because they know that we can do great things,” Wasserman said. “I think that having people apply into the programs discourages the students because we have worked so hard to get here and we just have to keep applying.”

According to Youatt, schools view the application differently than the students.

Requiring students to apply to the program sets the bar higher than simply having students declare their major,” Youatt wrote. “In sum, having to apply to the program asks students to reflect meaningfully on their interests, experiences, values and goals. These reflections are important to choosing an academic major and ultimately a career path.”

Public Policy School recruiting coordinator Tricia Schryer also noted in an email interview the importance of having students truly invested in the school's teachings.

“The program is designed for students who are deeply interested in the policy challenges facing our nation and our globe, and provides a solid foundation for a broad range of initial jobs and for further study in any professional field,” Schryer wrote.

The largest issue is many students are passionate about the programs they are applying to, but do not know if they will claim a spot in the cohort. Students like Wasserman and Hogeterp are forced to think of a backup plan for their majors, which can be difficult to arrange two years into college. Wasserman has looked into alternatives to public health, including sub-disciplines within the Program in International and Comparative Studies.

Wasserman also mentioned that having other students in her year also experience this process was helpful.

A lot of my friends are also applying to these smaller programs,” Wasserman said. “For all of us that are applying, it’s been nice having a support system going through the process because it’s very stressful and overwhelming.”

In terms of the increasing interest in many of these programs, Youatt said the Public Health School has taken notice of the fact. There are plans to expand the undergraduate program in the Public Health School in fall 2019 semester due to the increased interest shown by students.

The Organizational Studies major, which combines economics, psychology and sociology in order to understand the mechanics of organizations, is an apply-in program requiring three prerequisite courses and an extensive application. LSA sophomore Annabel Weinbach is applying to both the Public Policy School and the Organizational Studies major.

“(Organizational) Studies lets you tailor your path to what you want to do, and there is a political and legal path which is what I want to do so it can combine my political and legal knowledge,” Weinbach said.

Weinbach believes an apply-in program is necessary for attending a separate school such as the Public Policy School. However, she feels applying into a major within a certain school — such as Organizational Studies in LSA — is unfair, as she had already been admitted to LSA.

“I think Ford (should have an application) because it’s a separate school,” Weinbach said. “I think (for) Org Studies, because it’s an LSA major, I shouldn’t have to apply separately since I already got into LSA. I shouldn’t have to reapply to get into a major.”

Weinbach suggests creating a pre-admit program for the Public Policy School, similar to the Ross School of Business program, in which students could apply as a senior in high school as well as having an apply-in option for students already admitted to the University.

Schryer said the Public Policy School is not considering creating a pre-admit model for the program at this time.The Organizational Studies program was created in 2001 after significant student demand. With limited faculty, administrators figured an apply-in program would create smaller class sizes based on the limited resources. Organizational Studies adviser Catherine Philbin discussed the advantages and detriments of a selective apply-in program.

“The benefits to our faculty are that they are able to choose who will enter the program, so they can select for various qualities (strong academic performance, diverse backgrounds, wide liberal arts and organizational studies interest, campus engagement and leadership, etc.),” Philbin wrote in an email interview. “The benefits to the students admitted are that they get to work among these same strong students in their last two years of undergraduate study.”

Philbin said Organizational Studies is concerned by the low 25 to 30 percent admission rate the program currently has, as it limits the number of talented students who get the opportunity to pursue the major. Nonetheless, she said selectivity ensures the highest caliber of students are admitted.

“The selective admissions process has been necessary to ensure a quality educational experience in the major,” Philbin wrote. “However, we have been uncomfortable with the low admissions rate of the program, and know many talented students are having to seek other majors if not admitted to OS. Fortunately, LSA has many strong majors to choose from, and students can also pursue degrees at other schools and colleges at the University. We look forward to being able to accommodate more students in the future as we increase faculty numbers and course offerings.”

Still, the limited spaces offered in the programs impact many students’ future plans at the University.

“I think that if someone really expresses interest and is really motivated, then they shouldn’t limit the number of students they’re accepting,” Wasserman said. “They should make it more of a screening process instead of making it really exclusive and competitive because it's degrading and a little frustrating to students.”