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Stu­dents declare their majors in Central Hall. Col­legian

Con­ser­v­ative talk radio hosts praise it on the air­waves. Fox News broad­casts its com­mer­cials. The Princeton Review ranks it second in the nation for “Most Con­ser­v­ative Stu­dents.” Its Wash­ington, D.C. campus, which houses the newly-opened Graduate School of States­manship, sits steps from the capitol. With its emphasis on pol­itics, gov­ernment, and current events, it would be tempting to sum Hillsdale College up as simply a bootcamp for future pres­i­dents.

As a prospective student, that was Taryn Murphy’s impression of the school. Murphy, a junior, grew up in a polit­i­cally-active family and was involved in pol­itics throughout middle and high school. She planned to study pol­itics in college and Hillsdale seemed like the logical choice. 

“I thought Hillsdale was a pol­itics school,” Murphy said. “The way Hillsdale markets itself — or at least how I per­ceived it — is that it’s a school that is very involved in the political realm, which is true. But when people would ask me about Hillsdale, I would always describe it as a con­ser­v­ative school, not a liberal arts school. I thought of it as a place where we study things with the ultimate aim of going into the political world.”

Upon arriving to campus, however, Murphy dis­covered that Hillsdale had much more than just its pol­itics department. Today, Murphy is a phi­losophy and religion major. 

Murphy’s expe­rience isn’t an anomaly. According to Brandan Hadlock, director of oper­a­tions for admis­sions, 209 people from 2017 – 2019 expressed interest in either the pol­itics or political economy major as incoming stu­dents. But the number of stu­dents who ulti­mately com­plete the pol­itics program is far smaller. This spring, a mere 27 stu­dents in the class of 2019 grad­uated with a degree in pol­itics. In fact, pol­itics doesn’t even rank among Hillsdale’s most popular majors; that honor goes to history, biology, business, English, and eco­nomics.

Junior Paul Esposito has a similar story. Esposito said he arrived at Hillsdale “dead-set” on a Bachelor of Arts in pol­itics. 

“I came in thinking that pol­itics was the only field Hillsdale cared for,” he recalled. “I knew that other majors existed here, but I thought that those depart­ments were basi­cally just sideshows to the pol­itics department.”

Within a semester, he switched to a Bachelor of Science in psy­chology.

“There’s a huge variety of intel­lectual fields and tra­di­tions here that coexist and create an envi­ronment that values knowledge in any study,” Esposito said. “Political life is surely a part of Hillsdale, but it’s by no means the only thing here.”

Julia Powell, a junior bio­chem­istry major who once planned to pursue pol­itics, echoed Esposito’s obser­vation.

“I think when you come to under­stand what Hillsdale actually is and actually stands for, it’s so much more than what their adver­tise­ments show it to be,” she explained. “It’s not just, ‘We’re here to con­serve tra­di­tional American values.’ No, we’re here to con­serve an entire Western tra­dition and all of the books and the authors and the people who are behind it and rec­ognize that there’s value to what they said. That’s the con­ser­v­ative tra­dition that we’re a part of, not nec­es­sarily the political side of things.”

Senior John Ball, a pol­itics-turned-history major, said he was ini­tially sur­prised by how non­po­litical Hillsdale is.

“There are the Student Fed­er­ation people and the pol­itics majors, but other than that, people don’t really talk about pol­itics very much,” Ball said. “I think that’s really funny because when I was applying I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, all they’re talking about is pol­itics.’ It’s a very dif­ferent feeling once you get on campus than the image the admis­sions videos, coun­selors, and student ambas­sadors portray it as.”

But rather than being dis­ap­pointed by this dis­covery, Ball said Hillsdale’s aca­demic diversity was a “pleasant sur­prise.”

“There are incredible history and the­ology and phi­losophy classes that you don’t hear about as much as you do con­sti­tution,” Ball said. “I found myself enjoying all my other classes more than con­sti­tution and pol­itics.”

Powell agreed, noting that the core cur­riculum was a driving force in her decision to switch her major.   

“The core let me see a lot of the other options that were out there,” Powell said. “It wasn’t that I hated the Con­sti­tution or the class or the pro­fessor. It was just that I started to realize that my interests lay outside the political realm. These are the courses I enjoy and what I actually like has nothing to do with pol­itics.”

While all four stu­dents are grateful to have found their niche at Hillsdale, some express concern that the school sells itself short by focusing on only one aspect.

“There’s so much more for you here than just jump-starting a political career,” Ball said. “Hillsdale has so many fan­tastic depart­ments besides pol­itics, but you don’t hear them talk about it very much. I’ve taken some incredible classes that have nothing to do with pol­itics. You could just as easily paint a picture of Hillsdale as a very arts-heavy, human­ities-heavy, religion-heavy school as you can make it out as a pol­itics school.”

Murphy concurs.

“There’s this per­ception in the outside world that every single student who grad­uates from Hillsdale is going to change the world through pol­itics or become the next pres­ident,” Murphy said. “These are stu­dents who care about our country. But we can care about our country through mul­tiple avenues.”