Four-course semester worthy of consideration

By:
02/26/2015

The College Academic Council held a town hall on Feb. 18 to discuss the possibility of restructuring Georgetown’s undergraduate course structure, which currently operates under a five-course, three-credit system. College Dean Chester Gillis has been spearheading the dialogue about the change. A proposed alternative would require four courses per semester at four credits each. Peer institutions such as Yale and Brown, in fact, already use the 4-4 structure.

Opportunities for deeper introspection into course material and inflexible core curricula requirements should compel undergraduate deans to reconsider restructuring Georgetown’s current class system. Changing to a four-course semester system should enrich, not limit, the opportunities students receive in an undergraduate degree.

A four-course semester could allow students to delve more deeply into course material with a lower possibility of overburdening themselves academically. More often than not, five-course semesters make for classes where students scramble to memorize a few bullet points or formulas in order to pass their exams. Students learn good test-taking skills, but retain little about the subject itself.

Students in all four schools already face a large number of core requirements. Many worry a 4-4 system would not give them enough space in their schedule to double major or minor, or even to fulfill their graduation requirements.

While the purpose behind these requirements is to encourage students to explore a large variety of subjects, some students find requirements that are tangential to their interests tiresome. School of Foreign Service students, for example, may not find the most inspiration in the four introductory economics courses that fill up their freshman and sophomore year schedules if they plan to become Culture and Politics majors. Many students end their sophomore year without having studied any one subject in considerable depth, and as a result, find it difficult to make decisions regarding their major and minor selection.

For a four-course system to work in favor of students, Georgetown must reconsider its core curricula and give students more leeway to take classes they have an interest in and that are relevant to their academic focus. Alternatively, the university could also double count more courses to help students fulfill their requirements. This practice would create additional opportunities for students to take their desired courses without limiting the options they have to add minors or a second major to their degree.

In the spirit of the liberal arts, rethinking a semester’s structure has the potential to reinvigorate interest in academic subjects that students want to experience during their college careers. Any decision for change would certainly have momentous consequences, and deans in all four schools must continue discussions and make thoughtful changes to the current class system.

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