Editorial: University Scholars needs tweak

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The University Scholars major is one of the most prestigious majors at Baylor. Students are excused from virtually all university-wide requirements and are given the opportunity to “create their own major” while working with University Scholars advisers. According to the University Scholars website, the idea is students “develop one or more intellectual foci, while also taking a variety of courses to round out their liberal education.”

Unfortunately, the idea behind this major sometimes falls short. Some students end up treating the major as a pumped up general studies degree and use the lenient requirements of the degree to avoid taking difficult classes.

Students should enter the program with a better idea of what they want to do and study. Currently, incoming freshmen are allowed to apply to the program, but some students change their majors several times when entering college. According to research done by the Division of Undergraduate Studies at Penn State, 75 percent of students change their major at least once. Students rarely have a clear idea of what they want to study.

One solution to this is restricting admission into the program to second-year students and ensuring that students have very specific and set goals about what they want to study in the program.

University Scholars are vetted by the university. There are only about 160 University Scholars at Baylor, which comprises a little more than 1 percent of total Baylor enrollment. One-third of University Scholars are National Merit Finalists. They have to submit essays, teacher recommendations and possess high class ranks and GPAs. These are the best and brightest of Baylor’s incoming class.

University Scholars are required to maintain a 3.5 grade point average to remain in the program. Additionally, they are required to take Chapel, Christian Scriptures, Christian Heritage, Great Texts and develop an independent reading list which they are tested on during the second semester of their junior year. They are also required to complete a senior thesis. Additionally, students are required to complete 90 hours as a University Scholar.

Within those 90 hours, though, students are given virtually free reign as to what courses they take. Again, the concept behind being a University Scholar is great. It is a wonderful opportunity for students to take classes from many different fields and it is developed for students who want to build for themselves a more well-rounded and holistic education.

However, using this game plan, students can choose concentrations in certain areas such as biology or classics or psychology. The difference is students can choose these concentrations and opt to avoid the really hard classes students in those majors would have to take. This is ideal for students applying to graduate and professional schools – something a majority of University Scholars choose to pursue.

However, it’s also a cop-out for students who don’t want to take those challenging courses out of fear of ruining a perfect or near perfect GPA. Students could earn a University Scholars degree and never take that dreaded course. Students in the program should strive to be academic leaders on campus – taking those hard classes and excelling in them, challenging themselves not padding their GPA.

Additionally, the title of a University Scholar is given to incoming freshmen, and smart or not, the student doesn’t always have an idea about what they want to study. This is in conflict with the idea that a student in the program identifies certain areas of focus or certain themes that he or she wants to focus on as a University Scholar.

For an incoming freshman who is new to the world of college, the extra step of trying to really focus their University Scholar experience may be skipped. He or she might just think, “This subject seems like fun, let’s take a couple classes in this.”
Students are welcome to trial and error, but as a University Scholar, they should have a more mature view of their education. They should have a better, more precise view of what they want their undergraduate experience to look like.

That’s a very exclusive group, but with a program with this much freedom, a lot should be expected of students. It should not be viewed as a cop out of taking difficult classes, of ensuring a solid GPA before applying into a professional or graduate school.
It should be viewed as something meaningful and prestigious, not a fancified general studies degree for students who want to take whatever classes they want. This needs to be an effort of the students and of the program to really set it apart, because otherwise, it means less than it should.