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Mirchandani '15: Real-world anxiety causes split ends and semesters

Brown is a wonderful place — perhaps even a tad too wonderful. Proof of this lies in the fact that many graduating students, as they walk through the Van Wickle gates, are filled with a feeling of remorse that equals, if not trumps, their excitement for the real world. I estimate that they do not feel ready to leave Brown. As a current junior, I know I am not ready to even think about making that ominous march in cap and gown, through “those sacred gates and into oncoming traffic,” as the old tour guide wisecrack goes.

For many reasons, graduating from any college can be a bittersweet experience. At Brown, however, it seems to be more bitter than sweet. Brown’s four-year graduation rate is the lowest in the Ivy League — 83 percent, as reported by U.S. News and World Report. While this could be due to the University’s considerable support for students who consider taking semesters off for medical and personal reasons, there has recently emerged a new source of “point-fivers.” Behold the “split semester,” whereby seniors can divide their eighth semester into two, taking at most five classes across two semesters for no additional cost besides housing.

It is hard to find official information on Brown’s policy about the split semester, partly because it is not something the University actively encourages. Molly Schulson reported in a Herald article last semester (“Approvals to ‘split’ eighth semester decrease,” Oct. 10) that Chris Dennis, deputy dean of the College and chair of the Committee on Academic Standing, said such an option would now be provided only when a student wishes to pursue an academic opportunity that cannot be done any other way, such as research for a capstone or thesis. Medical reasons are also permissible.

Though this opportunity to prolong one’s time in college has been around for years, only recently has there been a noticeable hike in the number of students petitioning for it. Last academic year, 29 students split their eighth semesters, compared to 33 total over the years between 2008 and 2011. Dennis said he was unsure of the precise reason for this hike. I don’t know either, but I have a growing skepticism of Brown’s ability to prepare us for the real world.

Medical reasons are valid, but it is unlikely that people are facing significantly more illnesses now than in 2008. There is definitely a sickness that abounds, but it is one that plagues the job market, not people. Thus, like a fetus unwilling to leave the mother’s nurturing womb, Brunonia’s babies are potentially more discouraged by the push factors of the real world than the pull factors provided by Brown’s free food events and intellectually stimulating dialogues.

Rather than speculating about the causes of the hike in the number of semester-splitters, I would like to focus on what this has to say about the University. This hike is not a pat on the back for Brown, but an indication of the University’s failure to effectively prepare some of its graduates with a sense of readiness to take on a tough, competitive market. Drowning in the anxiety that this results in, some seniors try to hold on to Brown’s water wings a bit longer so as to avoid the risk of swimming alone, with the hope that a few more months in Brown’s cocoon will give them more time to search, prepare and apply for opportunities.

A senior independent concentrator recently decided to split his semester so he could continue his Providence internship as a part of his capstone project. There is no denying his passion for this project, but part of his decision stemmed from a hesitation to enter the real world.

“I am struggling to find a way to effectively communicate to potential employers that I have the ability to excel at whatever job they’re interviewing me for,” he told me, because his course selections and concentration do not seem to do so. Though this senior says he has no regrets about how he spent his time here, he does wish someone had better advised him as a first-year on which classes he should have taken to make himself more appealing to existing career options. Instead, he was swept away by Brown’s idyllic philosophy of education, where learning should be for the very sake of it and not strategized to net a high starting salary on graduation. Brown’s lack of pre-professionalism can become almost blinding and perhaps contributes toward graduating seniors’ feeling of nausea, often interpreted as nostalgia.

One could argue that the mere fact that we attend a world-renowned Ivy League institution like Brown is enough to tide us over. This sentiment was reiterated a number of times at JanLab, CareerLab’s student-alumni networking conference last month, by successful Brown alums from a wide array of industries. To delay leaving college would then be foolishness, because one would delay seizing the opportunities that beckon. But to blindly depend on the brand name that is Brown University is presumptuous, to say the least. There are innumerable colleges of comparable brand names out there — seven others easily come to mind — each of which annually churns out students who comfortably meet the Brown caliber and covet the same opportunities as our graduates.

An extra six months in college and the consequent six-month delay into the real world are unlikely to jeopardize career paths in the hindsight of 30 or 40 years. By then we would presumably have enough experience under our belts to know what we’re meant to be doing with our lives — or at least have become exhausted from trying to figure it out. But at this stage, at the tender age of 22, six months is 4.6 percent of our existence, making splitting a semester no small decision. Yet it is one that more and more Brown students are leaning toward.

For the University, this could be a financial and logistical burden that, given its available resources, it may not be able to sustain. The administration has become more cautious in granting permission for “split eighths,” but this will not solve the more fundamental issue that comes each May: An increasing number of intelligent and perfectly capable Brunonians would rather stand on the inside of the Van Wickle gates, safe from crazy Providence drivers and real-world hardships.



Ria Mirchandani ’15 is not much of a gymnast, but she has never been more split in her opinions on Brown, the open curriculum, concentrations and the disappearance of the Gate.


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