When the class of 2015 graduates on May 9, the assembled spectators will hear certain majors spoken aloud dozens of times. Last year, 35 students majored in English, 33 majored in economics, 29 in history, and 22 in marketing management, according to the 2014 Graduate Placement Report.
But every once in a while, those who pursue truth in the smallest majors offered on campus will sneak in between piles of economics and English majors. Since 2010, this has meant majors such as computational math (four total graduates), Greek (eight), philosophy and religion (six), religion (13), and physics (15). And in that time, only one person has graduated with a European Studies degree.
In addition to physics, philosophy and religion, and religion, sport psychology and sociology are also in a relative minority on campus. So what is life like this for students in these minor majors? Why did they choose their field of study? And what does their future hold? Despite studying in areas somewhat neglected here, these students are largely content with their majors.
Perhaps the smallest major on campus is also one of the newest: sport psychology, which graduated one student last year and will graduate another this year. According to Sports Studies Professor and Head Women’s Swim Coach Kurt Kirner, sport psychology mostly consists of psychology classes taken up the hill, the sports studies core, and just one sport psychology course to unify the major. “It’s a brand new major. It’s also a hybrid major,” Kirner said.
Yet other mainstays of campus have remained consistently small, such as physics. “There’ll never be many people at Hillsdale majoring in physics,” said senior physics major Amy Kerst. Kerst, whose major graduated four students last year and will graduate three this year, is aware of the size of the major in her academic life.
“You definitely notice it. Partly because you basically know everybody in the major, and you also know the professors very well.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, this, physics majors often succeed: All of last year’s graduates were accepted into and had to choose from multiple physics‑, engineering- and science-based PhD programs at elite universities. Kerst attributed this to the major’s career focus.
“Professors here are good at encouraging students to get summer internships at other universities because we don’t have the labs or resources that grad schools want,” she said. “That looks good on paper.”
The sociology major, which will graduate three students this year (a bit low; 4 – 6 is more typical), is also not on the radar of most incoming Hillsdalians. “A lot of people come here with other priorities,” Professor of Philosophy and Culture Peter Blum said. “We don’t have people coming here to major in sociology.” Senior sociology and religion double major Hannah Wiekart agreed. “I don’t know anybody who’s come to Hillsdale for a sociology major.”
The faculty size — only Blum and two part-time lecturers teach sociology courses — also limits offerings, as does pre-existing prejudices against sociology that hold it somehow practically defective, or politically defective. “There’s the prejudice that sociology is overwhelmingly politically left-leaning,” Blum said. “But that hasn’t always been the case.”
Wiekart has noticed similar campus attitudes. “Sometimes you do get comments. People talk down on it as a major,” she said. “At Hillsdale, you have the main majors, and the little ones get neglected.”
Blum identified three methods students find the sociology major. “We attract some students who figure out it’s their interest area, some who take the core class, and some as non-majors attracted by class titles and subjects.”
The last of these was the case for Wiekart, who, upon finishing her religion major early, entered into sociology with classes that intrigued her. Now, she’s glad she added the major.
“It challenges the way we think about everyday interactions,” she said. “You’re not just understanding human nature philosophically, but trying to understand it practically.”
Like for physics, those associated with sociology accept pros and cons to the small major size.
“It’s both an advantage and a disadvantage,” Blum said. “Students don’t have quite as many people to discuss with, but it’s advantage not to have as many to deal with.” Wiekart echoed Blum’s assessment. “You do you really get to know the professors,” she said.
Like physics, sociology still manages to prepare students well for life after Hillsdale, though with less of a direct career focus. Sociology majors have gone onto grad school, social work, criminal justice related-fields (including enforcement: one major works at a police department in Washington, D.C. tracking serial killers), law school, and business. To Blum, this wide variety proves sociology’s value. “Students ask me, ‘what am I gonna do with a sociology major?’ and my answer is ‘anything you want,’” he said. “That’s what we’re supposed to be doing as a liberal arts college.”
The department of philosophy and religion, whose constituent majors count small separately (in 2014: six for philosophy, six for philosophy and religion, and 3 for religion; in 2015: 5 religion, 2 philosophy and religion, and 7 for philosophy) but are under the same department, has experiences similar to other small majors.
“Like physics and sociology, few students come to Hillsdale to major in philosophy,” Professor of Religion and Humanities, Grewcock Chair Tom Burke said. “In fact, hardly anybody does. So few kids have any real philosophy class before they come here.” Most eventual majors get hooked from the Introduction to Philosophy course. Also like physics and sociology, philosophy and religion department majors are well-equipped for post-graduate life. This year, three philosophy graduates have been accepted into philosophy post-graduate programs (with one accepted to programs in philosophy and theology). Other students with the major go on to do “all sorts of things: business, teaching, graduate school, law school, ministry, mission work — quite a variety,” Burke said. “In a sense, it’s like any other major. You can do anything you want with it. It’s not training for a job, it’s a liberal arts degree.
“What the major is is not necessarily indicative of what they’ll do in their career.”
Despite their relative size on campus, these and other minor majors have impacted both campus and the lives of their holders in major ways. Above all, they prove yearly that there’s more to academic life at Hillsdale than majoring in English or economics.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.