we are doing college all wrong

hey unknown person!

Thanks for clicking on my post! I’ve got a lot to discuss today and it’s a topic that always comes up. Whether it be with other college students, professors, student government, family or friends, I always, somehow, find a way to weave this grievance of mine into conversation.

Quick semi-unimportant disclaimer: Many people my age will probably dismiss or simply disagree with my opinion here, but that fact is the reason why I strongly encourage you (and everyone else) to read my article. Feel free to comment below, contact me here on my site, or comment on my social media with your perspective!

My major here at the University of Richmond is a mouthful. “Interdisciplinary” as a word itself CONSTANTLY trips me up. But what I’ve chosen to study as a major, named “Psychology and Creative Engagement,” is so broad and ambiguous that the conversation never ends there. I mean, I didn’t even know what Interdisciplinary Studies was until about 6 months ago; and yet, it has become a path so perfectly fit for me. The idea of Interdisciplinary Studies is just a manifestation of the liberal arts mission.

What is my issue, then?

It took me getting rejected from my planned academic path, meeting with a career advisor, meeting with my academic advisor, and then being 1 of 6 students in my class to seek out an Interdisciplinary Studies major to do exactly what I came to college for: expand my awareness of the world by studying a variety of subjects. I have always loved taking “random” courses; AKA courses that don’t necessarily satisfy a requirement (gen-ed or for my major/minor track) but I find interesting. I love having endless opportunities to see the world through different eyes than my own.

I know that taking an intensive summer business program after finishing spring semester wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but my love for diverse perspectives isn’t an anomaly… it’s what colleges are supposed to be fostering when they boast their “liberal arts education.”

University of Richmond Commencement 2018

The truth can be broken down into 3 disheartening parts:

First, it is ridiculously easy to go through your general education requirements (what makes up this “liberal arts” degree you’re getting) and not engage with the subject at all. What I mean by this is that students’ experiences with gen-eds tend to be that either the course itself is uninspiring or that the class morale is decidedly low. Instead of being carefully selected, deeply developed courses that stimulate a new way of thinking within a certain academic discipline, these courses are rarely referred to positively and are usually seen as a nuisance.

Second, most colleges and universities make the pursuit of “liberal arts” rather difficult once you’ve established your major. You get sort of locked into an academic path. A lot of the time, especially with programs at my school like those in our business school, there’s so little academic flexibility that you have to limit yourself to a certain department or discipline. And programs that foster a more well-rounded, flexible approach are far and few between with next to nothing when it comes to advertising it to students (i.e. Interdisciplinary Studies!).

Third, students *supposedly* getting a liberal arts education (or those applying to these schools) have either willingly accepted this institutional disparity between what is and what is supposed to be OR they don’t even realize that they’re getting jipped. I know it can be unappealing to take classes that seem challenging, dull, or irrelevant (classes that don’t count toward your major as many students I know complain about) but this is kind of what you signed up for, even if you didn’t fully realize it at the time: perspective and interest exploration. I took Symbolic Logic to fulfill my math gen-ed requirement originally to avoid taking calculus, and I was dreading it; I ended up really enjoying the subject and had a blast in the class itself. It was also nice to balance all of my humanities courses with something more… well, logical. If a class is offered, then it has to have some value to remain on the roster.

I feel like we are losing the biggest strength of a college education. Or rather, the culture of “going to/attending college” in America is shifting and narrowing its focus, while still wearing this mask of a former purpose. How would current high schoolers list and describe the reasons they are excited to go to college? I can promise that perspective exploration or self-development through academia wouldn’t even make the top 3.

Where college is often the last stop for many students on their path of institutional education, it provides an incredible opportunity to shape and enlighten the future of our society. This post may seem a little preach-y or traditional in perspective, but I know I’m not the only one who gets disappointed in the overall “college experience.” Academics and finding your career path *should* be one extremely important part of that college experience, but the reality is that the significance of learning in college most often takes a backseat while it can be just as crucial to personal development.

Do I have a solution? An answer? No.

Except, I do encourage anyone who may read this and recognize a similar grievance in their college experience to first seek out ways you can make your academic career more fulfilling and exemplary of the true purpose of “liberal arts;” the second thing I ask of you is to just have these conversations on your campuses because it’s a good start to changing the culture that lost the power of higher education somewhere along the way. Let’s remind people that exploration is the best way to find a passion, one that can bring you a profound sense of fulfillment in life.

Instead of playing into the notion that “liberal arts” is just a label, let’s actually embody it.

Enjoy this awkward picture of me and have a good week!


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