Changes approved to Woodrow Wilson School undergraduate program

April 21, 2011, 3:57 p.m.

The faculty of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs have approved a plan to restructure the school's undergraduate program following a yearlong committee review led by Princeton President Emeritus Harold T. Shapiro and Wilson School Associate Dean Nolan McCarty. The plan includes ending the selective admissions process for the undergraduate major and opening the major to all students who meet prerequisite requirements. The revised program will go into effect for students enrolling this fall as the class of 2015. 

The Wilson School's undergraduate major, which was established when the school was founded in 1930, has been the University's only competitive undergraduate major. The multidisciplinary major offers an individual program of study that combines techniques of analysis from the social science disciplines and courses that give students substantive depth in a particular policy area. Students currently apply for the major in their sophomore year.

Other notable changes to the program include the introduction of prerequisite courses, an expansion in the core curriculum, a modification of requirements for junior independent work, and a requirement that students choose courses from one of several multidisciplinary "clusters" that cover broad themes in public and international affairs.

"This group left no stone unturned," said Wilson School Dean Christina Paxson of the work of the review committee. "They collected data on the program and discussed at length the various alternatives with students, faculty, alumni and administrators at both the school and University level. Their overall conclusions were that although there is much to be admired in the current program, it is time for significant change."

Paxson requested the review of the undergraduate program last spring, and the changes underscore the Wilson School's commitment to providing a liberal education in public and international affairs that is multidisciplinary in nature and distinctive from other educational opportunities at the University, she said.

The plan is designed to accomplish a number of interrelated goals: provide students with a curriculum that is coherent yet flexible; strengthen the capacity of Wilson School majors to conduct excellent senior thesis research on a range of topics in public and international affairs; and increase faculty engagement with students in the program.

The widespread support among the faculty for open admissions to the undergraduate major reflected the view that all students should have equal opportunity to major in public and international affairs. This belief outweighed a concern, expressed by some alumni and current students, that open admissions might diminish the program's reputation. The review committee also heard from others who indicated that selectivity had become a proxy for prestige of the program.

"The prestige should come from the strength of the program, not the selectivity of the admissions process," said Shapiro, a professor of economics and public affairs.

Paxson and the committee acknowledged that ending the selective admissions process could increase the number of students majoring in the Wilson School, and the school has been working to develop contingency plans to ensure the necessary resources will be available regardless of the size of the program.

Among its prominent alumni, the school counts two secretaries of state, a secretary of defense, numerous senators and governors, and a host of U.S. and foreign government officials, ambassadors, leaders of nonprofit organizations and other influential policymakers.

For more information, see the Wilson School's full announcement