Over break, I caught up with a friend of mine who hails from Australia. After reminiscing for some time about the high school years she spent living in my hometown in Maryland, we moved on to share stories about our respective college experiences. We compared everything from American and Australian bar culture to classroom dynamics. Aside from the differences in drink and sport preferences — she prefers Crown Lager and soccer while I’m partial to Sam Adams and American football— what most surprised me was her genuine shock (bordering on disdain) that a university as prestigious as ours offers classes beyond the core academic curriculum typically associated with “university” studies in the Down Under. In this case, I was referring to a meditation and contemplative practice course I had just completed.

As she explained, her course choices in Australia are much more limited, and classes are more focused on preparing students for specific professions or vocations. Her explanation indeed highlights a continuing quandary for students. It’s difficult to find a balance between core academic and vocational courses intended to better prepare students for immediate entry into the work world, and alternative and creative courses, which contribute to a well-rounded and fulfilling college experience.

Supporting the argument for a more focused curriculum is a studyreleased earlier this week by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which reported a 11.1% and 9.4% unemployment rate for recent college graduates with degrees in the arts and humanities, respectively. Only graduates with architecture degrees, a field which was significantly and negatively impacted by the housing bust, had a higher rate of unemployment. And while these results might be expected considering the country’s current economic state, the numbers for unemployment of graduates with more technical degrees did not suffer to the same extent. Despite my friend’s disapproval and the results of such studies, students should still be encouraged to take courses that are not strictly academic in order to balance their schedules and expand their minds — ideally in ways which will assist them with their core courses and future endeavors.

In the same way football players can benefit from taking ballet classes to improve performance on the field, University students can benefit from taking arts and humanities classes in order to get them thinking in new ways and with different parts of their brain.

In addition to taking creative classes to find balance, University students should be encouraged to take classes in creative areas that interest them because of the opportunity to learn in the amazing, highly recognized programs the University has to offer. Moreover, while the benefits of a more structured academic curriculum may lead to more success in the job market immediately after graduation, there certainly is no guarantee that such directed studies will lead to long-term happiness or fulfillment.

Further complicating the discussion of the potential benefits of taking classes outside the core academic curriculum is the supposition that such classes are what students deem “easy A” classes. Students take these electives in order to inflate their GPAs, and while higher-level arts classes are most certainly difficult, some lower level and less conventional ones — such as the meditation course I took — indeed deserve the “easy A” identification, something nearly every student looks for when scanning websites such as ratemyprofessor.com. While some students may, in fact, elect to take such classes solely with the intention of getting a good grade, many others do not, and if the end result for either party is exposure to, or appreciation of, a new subject, then the motivation for taking the class becomes less important.

With a new semester just under way, students shouldn’t take the endless benefits of exploring areas outside their core curriculum for granted, and they should take creative classes in conjunction with strictly academic ones. Though such creative courses may not pay immediate dividends in the “real world” as compared to more directed technical business or engineering courses, the application of material learned in creative classes could very well be more practical and fulfilling in the post-college world outside the work arena.

So, while strict academics and soccer might be the norm Down Under, a balance of less conventional classes and strictly academic ones — along with, of course, football — should be accepted as the norm both here in the United States and at the University specifically. So long as the University continues to give students the flexibility to choose their courses, students should be encouraged to make their selections without fear of limiting themselves in the job market.

Leah Potkin can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu.

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