Flexible curriculums at U.S. universities allow students to make informed choices about their subjects and career paths.

By Steve Fox

April 2023


Flexible curriculums at U.S. universities allow students to sample a variety of courses before committing to one field of study.

Can young college students be expected to know what career they want? Would it be better to give them time to explore different subjects before making a commitment? Is it possible that they will want to study more than one major?

Universities in the United States understand some students find it challenging to commit to one field of study right at the outset. This is why they offer flexible curriculums which enable students to tailor their coursework and academic experience to their individual interests, goals and schedules. Students at four-year universities usually sample a variety of courses in their first two years before choosing a primary field of study, known as a “major,” along with a “minor” that might complement their major.

More avenues

“Students can also change their major if they find that the major they originally set out to study is not the one they are truly passionate about,” says Deborah Rosario, senior EducationUSA adviser at the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) in Mumbai. “Students can also enter a university ‘undecided’ or ‘undeclared,’ experiment with different courses to start with, and select a major later on. In some subjects, students also can create their own majors with guidance from a professor at the university.”

A flexible curriculum offers a number of other benefits. Students can:

  • Explore different subjects and determine their areas of interest before committing to a major. This can help them narrow down their options and make more informed decisions about their future.
  • Deepen their knowledge in their major by taking elective courses in their chosen field of study in addition to those required for their major.
  • Create a customized interdisciplinary major by combining courses from different departments to fashion a program that reflects their individual goals and interests.
  • Investigate a minor in a subject that interests them, which can provide them with additional knowledge and skills.
  • Pursue independent research projects under the guidance of a faculty member to gain research experience and contribute to their field of study.
  • Work toward two degrees at the same time. For example, an engineering degree and an environmental sciences degree.
  • Gain practical experience through internships or co-op programs in their field of study.
  • Reduce the stress and anxiety often associated with making a permanent decision about their future careers.
  • Get a well-rounded education and enhance versatility, which can be beneficial in the job market. Employers value graduates who have broad-based knowledge and skills in multiple areas.

Flexible doesn’t mean random. Universities that offer flexible curriculums also provide students with a strong educational foundation.

“In the United States, many four-year universities follow a liberal arts curriculum in the first two years where students are required to take a range of courses in various disciplines such as humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and mathematics,” explains Sujana Mayreddy, regional officer with the USIEF in Hyderabad. “This approach provides students with a broad-based education, helping them to develop critical thinking, writing and communication skills.”

It’s also important for students and their families to explore ahead of time whether a university offers a flexible curriculum and just how flexible it is. Some colleges follow a formula while others allow students to essentially design their own course of study.

Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.

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