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Focus Areas Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do students have to select both a focus area and a program of study at admission?

A: Students may choose a program of study at the point of application or during the enrollment process.  Students identifying  a  specific program of study will also be identified as members of the associated focus area for their program.  Other students who are unsure of their choice or are unclear about their options, and for some programs for which direct entry is discouraged by the program itself, will identify a focus area that aligns with their interests.

Q: Must Undeclared students choose a focus area when they apply for admissions?

A: This is an institutional decision, but students who self-identify as undeclared (undecided) should have sufficient information about their focus area choice in order to be certain that they are making a “close fit” selection.  For some focus areas, the connection between both discipline and career may be self-evident, but for other areas (such as Arts and Humanities or Social Sciences) students, especially students from first-generation households, may need more information about the field before making a selection. Students must identify a program of study or focus area prior to registering for classes for their first term, since their program map is determined by the academic focus area they identify.

Q: What counts as a Focus Area Course? Are these only Area F courses?

Students should take three courses in their focus area in their first year.  Courses within the focus area should first and foremost count towards most, if not all, all degree programs in the same focus area. More than this, however, they should provide a student with the opportunity to understand the academic setting and expectations of the discipline. These may be courses in Area F, but also may be any course within Core Areas A - E, and need not be directly tied to a program. This may be especially the case for programs that do not offer courses at the freshman and sophomore level; and for these programs careful coordination of the courses that provide the best sense of academic context and co-curricular activities that support student understanding of the field and the program should be developed.

Q: Students in Focus Areas are not eligible for financial aid?

A: Federal financial aid rules indicate that students must be enrolled in a program of study leading to a degree, but they do not need to have a declared major. U.S. Department of Education staff suggest that undeclared students be reported as being in General Studies (CIP code 24.0102) until they declare a major. Thus students who select a focus area are eligible for federal financial aid under the same terms as other students.  For further details, see here.

Q: Do focus areas require specialized or customized program maps?

A: No.  Focus areas are collections of closely related programs of study.  As such, the first term (and often, first year) program maps for all programs of study in a focus area should be very similar. For students who are unclear as to their program, the advisement process should identify a “best fit” map from the aggregated programs of study in the focus area for the student to follow for their first term, with subsequent advising focused on assessing and refining the program choice. 

Q: Does a focus area transfer with a student?

A: Students who transfer to a USG institution enter by declaring or major (or, if appropriate, a focus area).  If the student is not changing programs as well as schools, it is possible, but not guaranteed, that the focus area will be the same at both the old and new institution.  Regardless, there is no expectation that the student’s previous focus area will persist at the new institution, and it is more meaningful for the student to be aligned into the new institution’s academic focus areas, since this alignment drives curricular, co-curricular, advising and career counseling communications and offerings.

Q: What about students who really don’t know what they want to study?

A: There may be some students who, even after completing an interest inventory or survey and discussions with advisors are unable to identify a focus area or to choose between two equally appealing areas.  For these students, institutions may (at their discretion) consider an “exploratory” focus area that supports students in refining their program choice.  Exploratory students should be supported intensively both by career and student success services to ensure that they are able to make a program choice as quickly as possible and are able to be successful in their coursework. 

Q: Shouldn’t students be encouraged to explore in college? Isn’t a prescriptive process contrary to the mission of the university?

A: Focus areas encourage exploration, but provide structure to this exploration that ensures it is intentional, aligned with the student’s interests, and culminates in a credential. They leverage the substantial experience and capacity of the institution to help students see the path forward to their goals, and understand the options and alternatives available to them along the way.