Published: April 22, 2019

Next fall, approximately 25 percent of incoming undergraduates will be enrolled in the newly created Program in Exploratory Studies (PES).

Students enrolled in Exploratory Studies are either exploring possible courses of study or pursuing admission into one of the more competitive degree programs at CU Boulder. PES is positioned to become the “open option” for students who are exploring across campus versus exploring within a particular college or school.

Shelly Bacon, assistant vice provost for advising and exploratory studies, says the decision to create PES was driven by several factors, but the primary reason is to support students as they engage in academic and career exploration.

Campus community members walking down staircase in CASE building

Center for Academic Success and Engagement (CASE)

“Overall, 43 percent of students enter CU with the plan to do some form of exploring. Additionally, 40 percent of those with a declared major change their major after arriving on campus,” Bacon said. “Our focus in the Program in Exploratory Studies is to provide students the opportunity to explore the multiple pathways available to help them meet their educational, career and life goals.”

Career preparation

Bacon explained that the Program in Exploratory Studies is intended to honor the fact many students enter college with an eye toward career preparation.

“More than ever, students today enter college with an idea of the kind of career they want to pursue,” Bacon said. “But majors don’t always squarely correspond with careers in the way students think, especially given the many additional disciplines that are represented at CU Boulder compared to what students have been exposed to during high school.”

For example, a student who wants to be involved with technology may initially think the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) is the only option, and yet will also find programs of interest in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Media, Communication and Information through majors such as computer science, statistics and data science or information science.

“The Program in Exploratory Studies is particularly helpful for students in this situation, because this program allows them to explore majors that are similar but sit in different colleges and that get at different elements of the career track they hope to pursue,” Bacon said.

“Many students have a good idea of the ‘what,’ but the ‘how’ can be tricky because there are so many pathways. That’s where Exploratory Studies can help.”

Cross-campus exploration

Exploratory Studies will support students who have identified an academic interest by introducing opportunities that exist across campus so as to personalize their academic path with complementary majors, minors, certificates and hands-on experiences.

Previously, many of these students were automatically enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) even though their interests may lie in multiple programs outside of A&S. Bacon explained PES offers students in this situation a number of specific advantages, including the following:

  • Advisors with expertise in programs and opportunities in all of the colleges and schools
  • Small class experiences focused on intentional exploration and decision-making
  • Interdisciplinary First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs)

“Our advisors, who are experts in not just one college but in all of the different units, programs and degrees across campus, can help students navigate the breadth of our entire curriculum,” Bacon said. “We hope intentional exploration in the first year will result in increased fidelity to and satisfaction with the academic path that will take these students through to graduation.”

The Program in Exploratory Studies is a new administrative unit within the Office of Undergraduate Education. It has no faculty, does not confer degrees and will not have any implications on the budget model. It is a first-year advising and student support program from which students will transition into one of the seven degree-granting schools or colleges on campus.

For more information, visit the Program in Exploratory Studies website.