Three weeks after the beginning of every semester, students reach the point where they must drop anchor and settle into a permanent schedule. This Tuesday marks that very point — the notorious drop/add and pass/fail deadlines for LSA students. Unfortunately, for many students still testing the winter term waters, these deadlines have arrived much too early.
Because the average class will have met only five or six times before the deadlines, it is too early to expect students to have their plans for the academic term set in stone. It is not uncommon for students to discover their schedules to be less than ideal or their classes less interesting than the course descriptions promised. Also, with the variety of customized teaching styles individual professors subscribe to, students need time to adjust to each before they are forced to evaluate both the course and the professor.
Perhaps most importantly, as classes are just beginning, the first three weeks of a semester are deceptively easily, with uncommonly low workloads. Students will not be able to make well-informed scheduling decisions until they experience their classes in their full difficulty. Few, if any courses have any major exams or papers graded before the deadlines. This makes it difficult to predict a student’s probability of success in a class, and can be especially unnerving for those deciding whether or not to take a course pass/fail. By the time the first grades on papers and exams are finally revealed, it is often too late for students to switch to pass/fail or drop the course without branding their transcript with a “W.”
Those who support early deadlines reason that if students switch classes too late in the semester, it will be too difficult to catch up on any missed work. While this is thoughtful of the administration, students at a nationally renowned university do not need to be saved from themselves. They are old enough to manage their own workloads and make their own decisions without the help of the University. Furthermore, LSA administrators are considering a proposal to extend the drop/add and pass/fail deadlines for freshmen. This very fact negates the bulk of the University’s argument. If freshmen, by nature the least experienced and responsible of college students, are able to drop and add classes later in the semester, the whole student body should have no trouble doing so.
At the very least, the pass/fail deadline should be disconnected from the drop/add deadline. There is no logical reason why students should blindly gamble on whether or not to stake their academic records on courses that could make or break their grade point averages. If the pass/fail deadline were moved to after midterm exams or even shortly before the end of the semester, there would be no complications from changing courses or missing work, and students could properly assess their situations after becoming familiar with the grading systems.
Students should be afforded the time and opportunity to determine their academic future — the University’s current policies force students into hastily made and ill-advised decisions. When it comes to setting a course for an individual’s academic future, the best navigators are the students themselves.