March 5, 2019

JONES | Four Years Just Isn’t Enough Time

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I recently petitioned the Academic Records Committee in the College of Arts and Sciences to spend a fifth year at Cornell as an undergraduate — which would give me enough time to pursue an additional major.

The process of petitioning the Committee is brutal, if not totally irrational. Students interested in staying a longer time at Cornell to pursue an extra degree are advised to get approval from their faculty advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies for each current and new degree. They also must submit a five-year course plan, all before the add deadline for courses, Feb. 5.

Unfortunately, even after completing this arduous process, my petition wasn’t approved, and the reason was atrocious. When I was notified by email my petition wasn’t approved, I met with my advising dean the same day, and he stated the reason it was denied is simply that “Cornell doesn’t allow it.” When I asked him to elaborate, he told me it’s one of Cornell’s standard policies and there have been many like-minded students as me and that they were all denied as well.

I also learned from my dean that seniors not on track to finish their first major are usually “forced” to take certain courses to finish their requirements. The Student Center add-course webpage will automatically prevent them from enrolling in any other courses until they have added the courses they need to graduate in four years with one major.

This is awful. College is perhaps the only time period in our lifetimes when we can learn so much at once, and Cornell in particular, with its immense breadth of studies and academic rigor, is one of the best places to do that. It seems there is an arbitrary expectation that college students must graduate in four years, else it is abnormal or even frowned upon.

I’m sorry, but why? College is often called the best years of anyone’s life, and I, personally, would rather be a full-time student that worries about my grades than a full-time working adult that worries about paying the bills.

Additionally, preventing students from extending their own undergrad education is insensitive to extenuating circumstances that may have affected a student’s college experience. Earlier this week, I lamented with a friend who was also denied in staying more time at Cornell, stating that she, like me, had a difficult time adjusting to Cornell, dropping and retaking classes she had trouble in. We both agreed that by the end of four years, we will likely not have had a college experience as appreciable or memorable as other students.

Moreover, restricting undergrads to complete their degree within four years is outdated and unreflective of modern trends of college graduates. There is a steadily increasing trend of pre-professional students taking one or more gap years, and in fact, the average age of medical school applicants is between 24 and 25, according to the AAMC website.

This is hardly surprising. There are several reasons why students take one or more gap years, but one of the main ones is that many college graduates simply don’t feel ready to enter graduate school or the real world right after college. In this view, the gap year has come to symbolize a time of doing activities that one wasn’t able to do as an undergrad, like extra research, traveling or starting a business, for example. Allowing students to graduate in more than four years would alleviate this all-too-common issue among college graduates by allotting more time for one to pursue their passions.

Ever since my petition was rejected, I have been searching for alternative ways to continue learning about the subject I wanted to pursue as a major in an academic environment. The most apparent options are to do a post-bac program or an M.D.-Ph.D. rather than just an M.D., as these would allow me to still enroll in classes and receive credit, or even do research.

However, while these may come close to providing a glimpse of a prolonged undergrad education, they don’t truly replicate the undergrad experience. Undergrads receive many benefits that are often taken for granted, such as ease in obtaining on-campus housing and meal plans, the ability to hold leadership roles in student organizations and being able to work and interact with other undergrads on a closer level. There is nothing like one’s undergraduate years, and it’s a real shame that Cornellians experience such difficulty in extending them.

Interestingly, my advising dean told me that many prestigious public universities are less strict in preventing students from graduating in more than four years. Why can’t Cornell adopt a similar mindset? Cornell’s faculty, administration and graduate students would benefit much from the brilliance and passion of its large undergraduate body, even if it’s just one more year. Likewise, Cornell’s undergraduates would benefit much from the University’s plentiful attributes and opportunities that will help better prepare them for life after college.

Nile Jones is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nnj9@cornell.edu. Rivers of Consciousness runs every other Wednesday this semester.