A Real University Takes Harry Potter Too Literally, Has Students Pick Majors Out Of A Hat

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There are worse things a university could do than copy Hogwarts, but one school in China has come under fire this week when it was revealed that they were going a little too far and making students pick majors out of a sorting hat.

According to Shanghaiist, the prestigious University of South China in Hunan Province has been making its engineering students select majors via lottery for years. According to the school, there are seven majors available to the school’s civil engineering students, but some majors are more popular than others, so to keep things evenly distributed between the departments, the school decided to just distribute majors by lottery. Sure, they could have made the popular departments bigger and shrunk or eliminated the majors nobody was signing up for, but the school decided it was better to make students win their majors by lottery.

Students select or are given their majors at the start of their second year of university. The students who score best on exams at the end of the first year of school are allowed to pick whichever major they want, and everyone else has to draw majors from whatever is left via lottery. Of approximately 585 students enrolled in the class, 190 get to choose their majors. The rest don’t get a choice and are assigned by lottery. If they wind up in a major in which they have no talent or interest, that’s just tough for them.

At the end of the second year, a student performing in the top 10 percent of the class might have the opportunity to apply to switch majors if he or she desires. That seems a little backwards, because a person performing well enough to be in the top 10 percent of the class would clearly be excelling in his or her major and not have much impetus to switch. A person stuck in a major he or she did not like or had no aptitude for would have a very, very difficult time scoring high enough to be allowed to change, and that person would need the change the most.

“We were forced to take these measures,” said a spokesperson for the university. “If choosing a major is solely based on students’ wants, some majors will be overcrowded and others will have difficulty enrolling enough students.”

But other universities have the same problem. There are popular majors and unpopular majors. One does not expect one’s school to say, “Sorry, only 30 English majors this year. Some of you are going to have to go study Astronomy, because otherwise the Astronomy professors will be lonely.”

I’m sure there will be some people arguing for random distribution of academic majors rather than following one’s passion and maybe winding up financially unsuccessful. But this program has been criticized as being unfair since one’s major is related to one’s future career prospects, which makes a big difference in that person’s earning potential. Of course, others say it is totally fair and a good example of the meritocracy at work.

“I think it is quite fair,” one student said. “Students are encouraged to study hard to gain the chance to freely choose majors.”

$20 says that student is one of the lucky 190 that got to choose.

Do you think this is a good idea, or should students be allowed to make their own decisions about what they’re going to study?