Diana Kugel: A major problem

The other day, while wandering among the endless stacks of textbooks in the lower level of the bookstore, I found myself constantly distracted by titles of interesting books that I did not need. Sadly, I knew that I would probably never get to read that book on foreign policy or take that class on ancient Greek art, unless massive amounts of free time suddenly fell in my lap.

While I am genuinely interested in some of the psychology courses that I am registered for, and in psychology as a major, it doesn’t stop me from wishing I had more time for classes that would be taken solely out of interest and not hand-picked from a laundry list of requirements. Even within my major, there are courses that appeal to me much more than the ones I am obligated to take. This poses the question – exactly how much of a say should we have in our education?

The thing is that each student’s individual career goals and personal interests can vary far more than inflexible major requirements. From my own experience, I have no plans to practice clinical psychology or conduct research but instead plan to attend law school. Rather than spending valuable classroom hours on research methodology, I would gladly have opted for classes that focused on the decision-making process or on violent crime, things that are more likely to prove relevant in my future career.

The current system’s uniformity has every student with a certain degree taking the same courses to earn the same credit. It is, however, important to consider that even within one university, course content can differ from professor to professor and from class section to class section. There is no feasible way of ensuring that every graduate within a certain major will leave having mastered the same material, so why not allow for some additional flexibility?

Understandably, when a university hands you a diploma, it wants to be sure that the piece of paper bearing its name actually stands for something, and letting students take random classes for four years would not accomplish this goal. Still, with adequate advising resources, there is no reason why each student should not be able to map out his or her individual course of study.

Even though there are ways to create your own major and get around the requirements at GW, studying what you wish to learn should not require the skill of a trapeze artist to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops and red tape.

Other schools have embraced more flexibility, such as Ohio State University’s Personalized Study Program, which “permits intellectually coherent majors designed by the student, assisted by faculty,” according to the school’s Web site. An example of a personalized program designed by an Ohio State student is a lobbying major including political science, public speaking, communication and marketing courses.

The mere existence of such a program is not enough. As a GW student, I have no idea how to even begin finding the right person to advise me about forming my own major. In contrast, on the Ohio State Web site, I was able to locate the Personalized Study Program in under a minute, without ever having visited the site before.

The bottom line is that as students, we only get one shot at an education. Our learning should not revolve around checking classes off of a to-do list but should put students in a position to choose their courses of study with confidence that their university will support their ambition and curiosity, instead of making the personalization of your education so painful that it is easier to accept a cookie-cutter major.

The next time you pick up a crossword puzzle from the New York Times, consider that editor Will Shortz is the only known person to have a college degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles – a major that he fashioned for himself at the University of Indiana. Clearly, a little bit of flexibility can go a long way.

The writer, a junior majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet contributing opinions editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.