It’s time to change our conception of college

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Contributor

It’s that time of year. Advising appointments. Tentative schedules. Registration. The long-awaited release of course listings. The sudden popularity of BearWeb. The mad rush to type in CRN numbers. What’s missing, though?


By now, the majority of us are simply going through the motions. We schedule our advising appointments and attend them without much preparation. We listen to our advisers say the suggested schedule for someone with our classification and major. We accept what we’re told and sign up for those courses without much thought. After all, college is just supposed to get us our degree, prepare us for our chosen career and send us on our way, right?


My dad, who majored in microbiology before attending medical school, often reminds me of the variety of classes he took “just for fun” during his undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, including British literature and philosophy. He reminisces about a time when young men and women would move away from home, not to follow an unshakable four-year plan, but to explore all that an institution of higher learning had to offer. I used to respond with a chuckle and say, “Oh, Dad,” our generation’s customary response to any practice that appears obsolete. After having completed almost a full year of college, though, I’ve traded in my chuckle and “Oh, Dad” for a nod and “You’re so right.”

It’s no secret that college students in the modern age often get locked into their majors or pre-professional tracks, and this is harmful not only for those who are undecided on their careers but also for those who are pursuing theirs with complete certainty. The former students are pushed into random majors, hanging on to the hope that, at some point, they’ll stumble upon one they enjoy. The latter students — many pre-meds, for example — restrict themselves so tightly that they learn nothing outside of their chosen majors. The minuscule number of general education courses we take freshman year isn’t enough to help out either of these groups. We have forgotten what a liberal arts education is, turning away from broad character and mind formation and toward rigid career preparation.

As a University Scholars major, I’ve had the opportunity to experience something slightly closer to the ideal liberal arts education. The University Scholars program allows for multiple concentration areas instead of a singular restricted major, enabling me to dabble not only in political science and journalism but also in Spanish and poverty studies.

Moreover, the University Scholars program requires two great texts courses in addition to colloquium and capstone. Through the former two, I’ve been immersed in the works and intellects of figures like Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Augustine, Aquinas and Dante. I’ve written longer and more introspective essays than I thought myself capable of composing. I’ve stretched my mind and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. While reading classic pieces from the ancient and medieval worlds certainly isn’t something I would willingly do in my free time, it’s given me the tools necessary to carry myself in intellectual conversations. It’s raised my reading, writing and analytical skills to levels I’d only dreamed of before.

I’m not saying the entire student body has to storm BearWeb and overload the server in a frantic attempt to switch to the University Scholars program. The entire student body does, however, have to start being more intentional about course selection. Don’t lock yourselves into your major or pre-professional track. Remember that college is a place not only where you should receive a specific degree but also where you should undergo broad spiritual, mental, physical and academic character formation. If you’re pre-med, take a philosophy class. If you’re pre-law, take a physics class. Anyone and everyone, take a great texts class. Quite simply, start viewing your time in college as the extraordinary growth opportunity that it is.