January 29, 2023

SWASING | An Education I Enjoy

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I have a love-hate relationship with the first week of classes. I dread the uncertainty of sorting out my courses during add/drop and determining my workload for the semester. From getting into classes I was waitlisted for to dropping classes that didn’t meet my expectations, my calendar is a mess of crossed-out to-do lists and reminders scribbled in the margins. And yet, there is something so exciting and rewarding about getting back on campus and diving into something new. 

This semester, I was faced with a dilemma that plagues many college students: Choosing between two classes for my major. One is a class that I am genuinely interested in, excited to learn about, and eager to take something away from. The other is a class that I know would be less work and would likely result in a better grade. 

As a pre-law student, I know my GPA will factor heavily into my law school applications, so it’s important to consider potential grade outcomes. Not to mention, with all the other obligations of this semester — my job, studying for the LSAT, club involvements and more — a class with a lower workload is extremely appealing. 

On the other hand, I came to Cornell because I enjoy learning, and I want to receive a quality education in subjects I am passionate about from professors who quite often literally wrote the textbook in their respective fields. I didn’t come here to cherry-pick my classes so I could do the least amount of work possible with the greatest GPA payoff. I don’t want to reflect on my time at Cornell and realize that I wasted it by backing down from challenges at every corner when I could have been engaging in some of the most intellectually stimulating opportunities of my lifetime.

I opted to risk my GPA by taking the more difficult class with a higher workload. Whether or not that was the right decision… ask me at the end of the semester. 

But here’s the thing: That decision is one that no student should ever have to make. Why are colleges forcing us to choose between academic fulfillment and inflated GPAs that will open the doors to our futures? It should never be a question of whether to take a class that piques your interest and you can actually take something away from or one with a greater promise of an A.

Higher education should be an institution that fosters real learning rather than GPA-bolstering students who are worried about the possibility of a hard-earned grade sinking their chance at their dream job or graduate program. We are all very qualified people who already got into college, so why are we still running in the rat race in pursuit of our 4.0 GPA cheese? 

The answer is that we are stuck in the ways of the past. Times are changing — colleges need to as well, and some already are. Yale Law School, for example, only gives its first semester students grades of credit or no credit. After that, students operate on an honors/pass/low pass/fail system. YLS never calculates GPAs, doesn’t rank students, and has no curve. Students at Brown University choose whether to be graded on a letter grade system (with no plus or minus grades) or a satisfactory/no credit system. Regardless of which they choose, no GPAs are calculated at Brown. 

Both schools’ systems allow and even encourage students to focus more on learning than on stressing over every individual point that they miss toward their grade. These schools have figured out how to place the emphasis back onto learning, instead of on grades. All students could benefit from an education system that functions this way. 

Until this is the standard in higher education, we continue to do a great disservice to generation after generation of students whose passions for learning are snuffed out of them and replaced with the illusion that a high GPA means you must have learned something. I, for one, look forward to the day when students can have an enjoyable and engaging education, as opposed to one that stifles their ability to learn. 

Halle Swasing ‘24 (she/her) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].  Goes Without Swasing runs every other Sunday this semester.