Class of 2012: Welcome to Free Agency
So the long winter wait is over and those envelopes are arriving, thick and thin, yes and no, accept and reject (or waitlisted!). You’re now about to make one of the most important decisions of the next few years of your increasingly independent life and it’s important that you take advantage of all information available.
More often than not, students know little about the school that they’re about to attend. This isn’t an entirely awful thing – you can probably figure out how to make the most of your time anywhere. Some will want to stay close to home while others will flee to an opposite coast. Some might have a dream city in mind or desire nothing less than cheering on the big time football team from the student section on fall Saturdays. Maybe it’s the big campus green or the bustling student center that caught your eye on the official tour. Maybe mom and dad went there or maybe you really like the name of the place. Sadly, somewhere along the way, you probably forgot about the classroom component.
Beyond the artificial reasons for wanting to attend college, there’s the inescapable reality of the time that will be spent studying. After all, for most people, college is still an academic experience with an eventual undergraduate degree and then job or more advanced studies. Therefore, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the academic expectations of a school before you wind up blowing time and money on endless courses that serve no interest to what you want out of college.
Schools have different curriculums. Some require a subset of courses that all students take (a “core” curriculum). Others have a certain number of general education requirements (e.g. two semesters of a physical science, four semesters of a foreign language, etc). Still, others advance entirely open curriculums where students can take almost anything offered in course catalogs alongside their major area of study. One school might allow more advanced placement than another (which could save you both time and money). Another school might allow you to pass/fail (that is, elect not to receive a letter grade against your grade point average, unless you fail the course) the majority of your classes if you choose. Nonetheless, these things vary and you’ll want to know how they work before you end up confronting them firsthand.
Thankfully, the bulk of this information can be found on nearly all college websites, but it’s unlikely that it’s included in official welcoming admissions material. This information is there to win you over (maybe with a water bottle or bumper sticker or t-shirt), as schools are aware that they’re competing for you, still free agents. They’re out there making pitches as best they can, but as an admissions office, they care little of what will become your own academic experience. That, as so much of what you’ll learn in college, is up to you to discover.