Offering 65 undergraduate degree programs in 5 separate colleges, the University of Notre Dame can make choosing a major a difficult decision.  Although each college at Notre Dame offers prestigious and rigorous academic degree plans, the undergraduate program of the Mendoza College of Business has received increasing recognition due to its number one ranking in BUSINESS WEEK’S 2010 nationwide survey.  As Mendoza’s reputation increases so too has the percentage of students choosing to major in business.

What factors, then, are students considering when choosing a major, and how are the other colleges and schools across campus reacting to this trend?

Margaret Archibald, a junior finance major, emphasizes both the practicality of the major and her affinity for the work.  “I chose business because it is a useful life skill to have regardless of what I end up doing after college,” she said. “I am well-suited for business, working with people, and working with ideas.”

She specifically chose finance for its complexity, explaining that college is an opportunity for her to learn the “nuts and bolts” of business.  She also provided insight into her major’s effect on her personal development.  “Working in groups helps me learn which kinds of people I work well with and how to [better] work with those I don’t work well with,” she explained.  “Realizing that it’s not about the ‘me’, but about the work, makes me more selfless.”

Peter Kilpatrick, dean of the College of Engineering, suggested another significant factor.  “With the weakness of the economy and the real possibility of a double-dip recession, I think students are very deeply concerned about employment opportunities, again, not realizing that an Arts and Letters degree appears to be as good a degree for obtaining a job as any other,” he said.

Dean John McGreevy of the College of Arts and Letters echoed Kilpatrick’s comment.  He pointed to data from the Notre Dame Career Center “shows that the percentage of students still seeking employment one year after graduation is the same on average in Arts and Letters as it is in all of the other colleges at the university.”

An equal percentage (three percent) of students seeking employment after college indicates an equally successful effort across colleges to find students a path after graduation.  McGreevy stated, “All of the colleges and schools at Notre Dame want to work together so that we are fulfilling Notre Dame’s distinctive mission and so that students make the best-informed choices about their education.”

While an increasing number of business majors might support the assumption that majors in other colleges are declining, this does not necessarily hold true. Many students, especially business majors, choose a double major within the College of Arts and Letters, McGreevy said.  Thus, although enrollment has declined, the number of declared majors within the college has declined by an insignificant amount.

Margaret Kennedy, a junior accounting and philosophy double major, is one of these students with a second major in the College of Arts and Letters.

“I chose accounting and philosophy because I have academic interests in both areas,” she said.  “As a philosophy major, I explore the foundations of societies and the mutual dependence of man.  Considering that economics is one of the most fundamental ways this relationship is expressed, it frustrates me that it is relegated to its own field. The double major allows me to engage both philosophers and those outside of academia, giving me a unique perspective in both an academic and a practical way.”

The advantage of the double major that Kennedy highlights is a subject of discussion within the College of Arts and Letters. According to McGreevy, the college is “developing initiatives with the department of economics and several language departments in the college to offer programming that would combine learning a second language together with business knowledge.” Such initiatives, he said, will prepare Notre Dame graduates for what he calls “an increasingly global world.”

Mendoza College of Business is not the only college with increasing numbers. According to Kilpatrick, the College of Engineering has observed increasing enrollment of about 30 percent over the last 4 years. In order to both satisfy students and maintain its academic excellence, the College of Engineering participates in what Kilpatrick described as “an intensive dialogue with the mathematics department” as well as working with the Boeing Company to “assist our rising sophomores to ensure that their math and science skills are at the levels they should be to succeed in our curricula.”

“Currently, the College retains approximately 80 percent of all its students and we would like to see that number rise to perhaps 85 percent, understanding that there are likely to be a small percentage of students who ultimately decide that engineering is simply not for them,” Kilpatrick stated.

Formerly a member of both the College of Business and the College of Arts and Letters, Helena Birdsell is now a junior economics major.  Contact her at