Some people know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. I am not one of those people. When I started my first semester of college, the only thing I knew was I wanted to study a subject that would allow me to help and support people.
My adviser recommended an introductory course in biomedical science because at first, I wanted to explore going into medicine. To put it nicely, I did not enjoy the class one bit and knew this type of science was not for me. Then, I began to take classes in psychology, religion, women’s studies and sociology. I decided to pursue psychology, so I could go down multiple paths that would allow me to work with individuals in any field.
In these courses and conversations with friends and family, I have realized that I want to go into social work one day. But first, I must finish up my degree, and this will take about another year and a half. I think it’s extremely frustrating that after my first two years of college, I feel like I am ready to apply to graduate school, but instead I have to continue courses for graduation and major requirements.
So, I’m here taking classes that do not build off of one another, where I feel like I am learning the same thing over and over again. Every once in a while, I learn something new, but it doesn’t feel profound. I am aware some fields of study have courses that build from one to the next, but not every field does. I’m just filling my audit checklist so that I can get my degree and move on to greater things. It feels incredibly meaningless and, honestly, like a waste of time.
I find this pathetic. I am sad that I feel like I am wasting money, time and energy taking courses I don’t have interest in nor will teach me the skills to grow and learn. It makes it feel like I’m here only for the diploma, just waiting to graduate. I am here to just go through the motions until I can reach the finish line.
I know some would argue they learned so much from a full four years of undergraduate school or taking those college requirements changed their entire field of study and impacted what they do now. I see this in the way LSA has Race and Ethnicity and area distribution requirements to give us opportunities to discover new fields and to become well-rounded graduates. However, this learning can definitely happen in a shorter amount of time than four years.
I never imagined my college experience to be so repetitive, mundane and even bureaucratic. I have many friends who feel the same way. It’s not that we don’t want to have extra time to be with our friends for another year or two, enjoying our social lives and student organizations; it just feels like the institution of undergraduate education is not respectful of students’ time and money.
I have friends who have changed majors or transferred programs between schools and are now required to take extra semesters. I even have friends who started off taking fewer credits after consulting with advisers and now have to take an extra semester. They then have to spend more time and money to take requirements that will ultimately just result in one sheet of paper.
I can’t help but see the way this impacts the higher education industry. A bachelor’s degree is the new minimum required for many careers. Still, some would argue a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma, because students regardless of major are not guaranteed a job with just their undergraduate degree. This indicates students will have to complete graduate degrees on top of all of these years of education — which ends up requiring more time, and, unless the graduate degree is funded or subsidized, more money.
Graduate degrees are going to be the new way to guarantee you are knowledgeable in your field. This means students are spending more money to get degrees at higher ranking undergraduate institutions or getting graduate degrees that expands their debt before they enter the workforce.
I think we need to take a closer look at our institutions of higher education and see if students are truly gaining what we deserve from the way programs are designed. We spend thousands of dollars every semester expecting to learn new things, be challenged and graduate in a timely manner.
Some smaller or more elite colleges have programs that are designed to give students more freedom. One program is Open Curriculum at Brown University, where students have the flexibility to study and take classes they want. Brown makes curriculum suggestions, and students can opt to use these or create their own paths.
With all of this to consider, I will still need to finish my undergraduate degree to apply for a job or master’s degree programs if I want to be successful in a society that values professionalism and wealth. So, here I am — just taking my courses and trying my best to get the most out of my current situation. The way undergraduate education is designed at big public universities will not just change overnight. As students, we have every right to point out the flaws in this system because it will ultimately affect our futures as individuals and as a society.
Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.