Every year, Iowa State welcomes students of all majors, from anthropology to engineering, and among them are open option students.
Rebecca Kurkiewicz is a freshman at Iowa State and is an open option student within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“I’ve enjoyed my experience as an open option student because it gave me a chance to explore different interests of mine,” Kurkiewicz said. “The [open option] program helped me learn more about myself and areas I’d be interested in studying.”
Autumn Cartagena is an academic adviser at Iowa State for Liberal Arts and Sciences. Cartagena is also the director of the Helping Open Option Students Manage Exploration (HOME) learning community.
“Have you ever been in a new place with new people and automatically felt at home with them?” Cartagena said. “Even if you’d never met them before or been there, you’re just like, ‘oh, this totally feels right.’ Being open option is pursuing that feeling in an academic home.”
Cartagena said students in the open option program explore their interests and strengths while they examine possible majors and careers.
Open option students take a strength assessment from Gallop and an O*NET interest profiler, which allows students to get an idea of how their personalities and talents might fit into different occupations.
“The only pieces that are required for [students] are doing LAS 101 and meeting with their academic adviser for registration,” Cartagena said. “However, what is recommended is that they meet with their adviser within the first two weeks of classes to know how things are going, to meet with their adviser if their schedule needs any changes, of course, and then we do a wellness campaign. We invite students to come in to make sure everything’s going okay as they transition to Iowa State.”
Part of an open option student’s transition to the university comes through the learning community HOME.
Cartagena said the learning community takes their theme of "home" all the way. Open option students arriving at orientation received a HOME keychain shaped like a house, and they refer to the peer mentors of the community as neighbors.
Kennedy Varisco, junior in English, is a previous mentor for the HOME learning community. Peer mentors are there to provide students with guidance for their academic and personal lives.
“A lot of my students struggled with time management,” Varisco said. “They were having a really difficult time figuring out how they were supposed to do all of their homework, study, do well in school and do everything else that any human being needs to do.”
While there are resources for open option students to navigate the process of finding the right major, they may face struggles with deciding a major while simultaneously balancing school life.
Cartagena said open option students can graduate at roughly the same rate as students with declared majors, as long as the open option students declare a major before they’ve earned more than 45 credits.
Varisco said most of her students had an idea for their major as soon as a few weeks into their first school semester.
“They were just kind of scared to make that final decision,” Varisco said. “That’s very daunting for a lot of individuals because they feel like once they make it, they’re stuck in it. [...] All of them, though, found classes for the next semester that they were excited about taking. That was an important part — that they were just excited and interested in what they were doing.”
Cartagena and Varisco said the process of finding a major is different for every student, and some students even decide on a career they want and then work backwards to find a major that correlates with the career.
“The reality is, we are all functionally open option all the time,” Cartagena said. “I define open option as needing to make a decision with some good information and some even better support. We’re all needing to make decisions all the time. [...] Open option students are just making an academic decision based on what they might want to study and get a degree in.”