University of Colorado senior Kylee Wasechek gave into her basic instincts last year when she declared pre-nursing psychology as her major.
After years of switching majors, Wasechek said she discovered a personal connection with studying human behavior. An interest that, as much as she hates to admit it, feeds her nurturing instincts.
Top 10 majors at CU for men:
4. Political science
5. Mechanical engineering
6. Integrative physiology
Top 10 majors at CU for women:
5. Integrative physiology
6. International affairs
9. Molecular, cellular and developmental biology
10. Political science
Source: CU’s Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis
“I call it a stereotype, but I guess it’s true,” Wasechek said. “I think most women have a need to nurture and take care of other people, and that’s what I really want to do by becoming a nurse.”
Despite decades of progress in gender equality, students and faculty at CU said they still feel the weight of stereotypes bogging down the diversity of some of the Boulder campus’ majors.
During the 2009-2010 academic year, CU awarded degrees to 3,049 females and 3,003 males across various colleges, according to the Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis. And while CU is seeing similar graduation rates among men and women, majors continue to segregate students.
Psychology is the most popular major overall at CU, but females make up approximately 75 percent of the students enrolled in the program at any given time, according to faculty and staff from the department.
Lewis Harvey, psychology professor and department chairman, said he doesn’t have an explanation for the inequality — but said it’s not a new development.
“It’s always been that way,” Harvey said. “Since I got here in ’74, there’s been more female students than male.”
Last year, 377 females graduated with a psychology degree, while only 145 males received a degree in the department. Despite the imbalance, psychology was still the third most popular major among CU men.
“I imagine it’s hard for men to go into nursing and other fields that are dominated by women,” Wasechek said.
Sociology and communication fell just below psychology as the most popular degree for women last year.
But men at the university have not missed out on the opportunity to mark their territory, making up the majority in several business and engineering degrees.
Included in the top 10 degrees awarded to men at CU last year are three business majors: finance, economics and management. Mechanical engineering and political science were high on the list as well.
Susan Grant, assistant professor of marketing, said she’s noticed a strong gender preference in the business school as men tend to flock toward quantitative majors such as finance and women often find more interest in majors like marketing.
“I think it stems from the notion, that is somewhat misleading, that boys are better at math and sciences then girls,” Grant said.
Grant said business and engineering are the most obvious examples, and the reality is some women might be missing out on opportunities in those fields because of the intimidation factor.
“It’s no one’s fault — it’s just how we separate ourselves,” Grant said. “We’ve made great strides over the past several decades and I think this is just something that will progress with time.”
Political science, English and integrative physiology were popular majors among both males and females, according to last year’s degree counts.
Students said they often see a stigma attached to majors or even particular classes, but when it comes down to it, the choice of what to study should be about personal interest and not stereotypes.
“I know that math and sciences usually have more males, but it doesn’t matter what gender you are if you like what you’re doing,” said Grace Holloway, a sophomore majoring in environmental sciences.
Sophomore John Ramseur continues to search for the right major, and after a few failed attempts, said he has a little advice to offer students.
“When you find something you love, just go for it,” Ramseur said. “Nothing else will matter.”