It’s that time of the semester again: course selection.
Thinking back to last year, my senior year of high school, I dreamed about this. I was so excited to be where I am now, picking my classes. A year ago, I was almost positive I wanted to be a journalism major, but I was looking forward to studying areas I wasn’t exposed to in high school. Potentially discovering a new passion and changing my major to something I loved more than journalism inspired me. I was eager to be in control of my education, the doorway to my future.
Or so I thought.
After the first few weeks into the semester, I realized that the flexibility I sought after with my college course schedule wasn’t exactly reality. The reality that I signed up for was an academic course map; a sheet of paper that outlined the precise steps I needed to take in order to graduate on time with a degree in the major that I thought I wanted when I applied to URI.
For anyone unfamiliar with the academic map, envision a huge checklist under the umbrella of your major. Then imagine eight boxes outlining the next eight semesters of your academic career. Inside are the exact classes you’re required to take in order to graduate, broken down by semester. There are a couple open spaces for general education requirements and electives, but essentially, your college career is already planned out for you.
To some, I realize that sounds like a blessing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting this structure to help earn a degree you already know you want. In fact, I might envy you a bit for having it all figured out so early in the game.
However, I feel this approach fits the academic minority: students who know exactly what they want to study when they come to college.
Sure, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to study when I picked classes at orientation last summer. I was surprised I wasn’t encouraged to explore other options though, with the vast majority of students who change their majors. Instead, I felt exhorted to figure out what degree I wanted and commit to it as soon as humanly possible. Rather than help me explore my interests through different classes, I felt like the university was urging me to decide now and think about my decision later.
I have a hard time working with an academic plan that forces me to make future plans on non-concrete decisions now. Having this much direction so soon in my college career makes me feel trapped. Even though I have a general idea of what I want to major in, what if I decide to change majors a couple semesters from now?
Obviously, we all need to make up our minds at some point and stop giving the university our money, but isn’t now, right when we get here, the perfect time to figure out what we want? We freshmen just arrived and now you want us to immediately decide what career path to go down? Why can’t we explore now, and commit later?
Besides, isn’t that part of what college is all about anyways, figuring out what interests us and delving into new experiences? After some exploration, I firmly believe I’d be less likely to change my major.
The university should hold off on course maps until students have a better understanding as to what academic direction they want to go in. Maybe instead of introducing us to our majors’ respective maps the second week of classes, wait until we’ve seen more of the programs URI has. I don’t think we need more than a semester or two, but let us pick classes based more heavily on our interests, without all the focus on majors we could easily change later.
All else aside, the academic map is a useful tool. It’s awesome that URI has made it more accessible for us to finish our degrees. I just think they’re starting us off too soon. I get it, take five finish in four, but what if we just took one of those four years to see what URI really has to offer?