With Wall Street beckoning from just down the road and St. Luke’s calling out to the first-years in John Jay, many students seem to have forgotten that the various Cores, “Hums,” and Ways of Knowing are not simply graduation requirements designed to burden and limit students.
While a prospective otolaryngologist should take biology and calculus, time for other interests should also be factored in—as every pre-professional advising office across the University recommends. Having a plan is certainly comforting, if only so that your mother knows that your human rights degree will amount to something. However, there is a delicate balance between having a plan and going overboard.
Think back to your first year—how many kids on your hall were introduced as pre-med, pre-law, or pre-something? We can all agree that there are more than a few of this breed unless, of course, our floor was an exception. With the mindset that future successes are dependent upon an undergraduate career consisting of the perfect classes, perfect major, and perfect resume fodder, students can become fixated on their grand life plans even before they step on campus. There is no need to declare that you are a future otolaryngologist before your first college class. With the focus on pre-professional education quickly overtaking our desire to comprehend the Peloponnesian War and “Civil Disobedience,” we are losing sight of the core of Columbia’s philosophy of multidisciplinary undergraduate education.
Has the idea of a liberal arts education become so archaic that we should just skip to the next step? Columbians by and large say no. While the curriculum is constantly under revision, there aren’t serious calls to throw it away and start anew. Yes, people seek to eliminate Music Humanities and restructure the Barnard science requirement, but when was the last time you heard real talk of nixing the entire Core?
Additionally, the most famous journalism school in the country is nestled on College Walk, but none of the undergraduate schools boast journalism as a major. The closest most students will come to studying journalism is taking a class or two—a far cry from the rigorous training that is offered in communications programs across the globe.
Why, may you ask, would Columbia not replicate such graduate programs on the undergraduate level? Over the course of our years here, we will all fulfill roughly a dozen distribution requirements envisioned as a means of expanding our perspectives through exposure to areas that would otherwise be overlooked. To actively promote pre-professionalism, the University would be going against the principles of education on which all of the undergraduate schools were founded.
At the end of the day, what the University mandates does not matter as much as what we, as students, can glean from these requirements. College is the time to experiment. Very few people, in their working lives, have time to take a course in Swahili just for fun. If we focus on looking forward, we will miss out on what is now. Find something that inspires you. Take a random course in Russian literature if you’ve ever had a fleeting interest in Dostoyevsky or a class on linear algebra if you really just love math.
We’re no authority, but we do practice what we preach. Gia is a probable biology major who professes to spend nearly every waking hour in the cinder block confines of Altschul. We don’t really have any idea where Jen’s headed. What we do know is that this semester we are taking sociology together—even though it’s outside our academic focuses.
Gia Yannekis is a Barnard College sophomore. Jennifer Fearon is a Barnard College sophomore majoring in political science and human rights. She is an associate editorial page editor.