In August of 1996, just over 200 students, who were undecided on a major, started their Purdue education in the Undergraduate Studies Program (USP). This past fall – 25 years later – more than 1,200 new Boilermakers were welcomed to campus by what’s now called Exploratory Studies. This academic year, the program is celebrating 25 years of helping students find their majors and experience academic success.
“We typically welcome one of the largest classes of new beginners each fall,” said Linda Gregory, executive director of Exploratory Studies. “Which is not surprising since we know that nationally, over 80 percent of college students will change their major at least once. Students and parents alike are seeing the value in taking a bit more time to choose a major while working through the core curriculum.”
It all began when the Purdue University Senate approved a three-year pilot program for beginning, undecided freshmen students. The pilot, called the Undergraduate Studies Program (USP), was modeled after a program at The Pennsylvania State University. In February 1999, the Purdue University Senate approved USP as a permanent program for entering freshmen students.
In June 2001, reentry, readmit, and change of degree objective (CODO) continuing students were added to the population served by the program.
“We call ourselves the gateway to Purdue,” said Gregory. “The expertise of our professional advising staff helps students learn more about themselves and the academic opportunities at Purdue.”
In addition to the staff guidance, Gregory explains that students in Exploratory Studies participate in an academic and career planning course that includes three main components.
“They are guided through self-awareness instruments such as the Myers-Briggs personality test and other self-reflective tools to learn about themselves and to better identify their personal goals,” she said. “Then we take a deep dive into the world of work and careers to learn about what different careers entail in hopes of finding options that align with their goals. And finally, the students learn how to analyze the majors that Purdue offers and find the best fit for them.”
Gregory is particularly proud of the program’s growth in scholarship opportunities. They now offer several financial awards to both incoming and current students.
“Because we have a two-year limit in our program, no one graduates from Exploratory Studies,” she said. “So we measure our success by the amount of support we can give our students when they come into the program and as they are transitioning to a chosen major. We know through our retention rates that when students truly enjoy and align with their academic major, they feel more empowered and tend to be more academically successful. And that’s our primary mission.”