Published: Dec. 18, 2019

Last spring, CUBT announced the newly created Program in Exploratory Studies (PES), which was poised to become an increasingly popular path for first-year undergraduates at CU Boulder. Eight months later, approximately 25 percent of this year’s freshman class is enrolled in the program, and with PES now appearing on the applications for both first-year and transfer students, university administrators believe that this program will continue to grow, becoming the path of choice for many new students. 

Exploratory studies is now the second largest entry point to CU Boulder, larger than both business and engineering combined.

Associate vice provost for advising and exploratory studies Shelly Bacon expects approximately 2,000 new students to enter the program in fall 2020 and notes that PES primarily serves two populations of students:

  • Students who are waiting to select a major until they have explored the programmatic offerings on campus and can make better informed decisions about their academic and career paths
  • Students pursuing admission into one of the more competitive degree programs at CU Boulder

“The Program in Exploratory Studies is the initial academic home for students whose interests span all programs on campus,” explains Bacon.

A portion of the exploratory studies cohort is comprised of students who were not admitted to their initial college of choice, most commonly business and engineering. Bacon explains that these students are academically strong and are unaware of the multiple pathways available to them.

“By enrolling in PES, students are exposed to academic options in all colleges and schools based on their areas of interest. Faculty and staff often understand the administrative structure of our programs but for new students it’s eye-opening to discover, for example, that there are majors related to technology in multiple colleges.”

A popular new path for CU Boulder students

Interest from prospective students appears strong thus far, perhaps because of the cross-campus focus of the program. Bacon explains that students arrive on campus often with a general sense of the type of career they envision, but without much knowledge about what types of careers are available, much less how to prepare for them.

“Students arrive on campus and say things like ‘I want to start a business,’ or ‘I want to help people,’” Bacon said.

“So the Program in Exploratory Studies has partnered with Career Services to develop resources that encourage students to spend their first two or three semesters on campus learning about the academic options that exist at CU Boulder, reflecting on their skills and values, and identifying which majors and hands-on experiences can lead to careers of interest.”

Bacon added that forming the Program in Exploratory Studies represents an effort to build a university experience in which advisors help students to discover both curricular and co-curricular experiences that feel personalized. 

Specialized support

Students enrolled in PES are supported by the advisors in the University Exploration & Advising Center (UEAC), which has provided advising support for students whose major and career goals span multiple colleges since 2017 and now serves as the official advising center for PES.

These advisors support student interest in not just one college but in all of the different academic units, programs and degrees across campus, and they can help students identify a unique academic and career path, sometimes spanning multiple of these. 

“The exploratory program was fundamental to my first year at college,” says Ariana Falco, a junior majoring in Strategic Communication in CMCI and pursuing a minor in Philosophy and a certificate in Peace, Conflict, and Security in Arts & Sciences. 

“They helped me to succeed in finding my desired education and career path. The staff is dedicated to helping in all aspects of first year success and supporting my goals.”

Close coordination with CU Boulder colleges and schools

Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Mary Kraus said that as CU Boulder has been working to launch this program over recent years, the Office of Undergraduate Education has made sure to work in close alignment with leadership from across the colleges and schools on campus.

“We know this program serves students who will eventually land in each of our colleges and schools, and we continue to work with our academic partners to ensure that their recruitment strategies include PES students as well as prospective students,” Kraus said. 

Kraus added that It is important that faculty and staff are aware of this new program. 

“As the Program in Exploratory Studies continues to grow and with PES students transferring into every college and school on campus, a significant portion of the undergraduate student population on campus will be current or former students in exploratory studies. Faculty will be seeing PES students on their class rosters, and staff will be seeing them in all of our student support offices.”

Exploratory Studies is an independent program under the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. At the end of the first year, students transfer to one of the degree-granting academic options on campus or opt to continue with Exploratory Studies through their third semester.

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