When I was a senior in high school, I attended an information session at Brown where several students asked outlandish questions — many of which illustrated an overzealousness to excel academically. One particularly over-eager student asked whether or not it is possible to graduate early, to which the facilitator responded in the negative.
Now that I’m here, I realize how controversial and complicated Brown’s eight-semester requirement is. There are many students who wish to graduate early and feel that Brown’s limitations are unfair. The Herald’s recent editorial (“Remove barriers to early graduation,” Oct. 13) argues that this policy is classist and violates students’ rights to design their own educational paths at Brown.
But while this article provides solid reasoning as to why the current policy is unfair, it simultaneously fails to acknowledge the benefits of implementing an eight-semester requirement. While I agree that there is room for improvement in Brown’s current policy — especially on the financial front — I do believe that it exists for the benefit of the students.
My first point of difference with the editorial is that it describes graduating early as a possible and realistic feat, stating that “completing the 30-course requirement would usually take about eight semesters but could take as few as six semesters.” While this six-semester completion might seem logical on paper, the physical and emotional process of graduating in “as little as six semesters” is absolutely grueling — an important point that the editorial writers downplay. In order to graduate with 30 credits in three years, a student would need to take five courses every single semester for six consecutive semesters, a draining feat that leaves little room for activities outside of academics.
Taking five courses at a time, as many students can confirm, is a challenging endeavor, especially at Brown, where the courses are both difficult and time-consuming. Doing this for six consecutive semesters is very different than doing it for just one or two semesters, which might be more doable. Many students would not be able to survive such a rigorous academic load and graduate in three years without letting something go by the wayside, whether that be mental health, social life, extracurricular activities, professional connections or even grades. And given the personal importance of all these facets that shape the college experience outside of the classroom, Brown should not allow students to choose this route.
Nonetheless, the editorial argues that regardless of this possibility of “overcommitting,” the current graduation policy impedes personal choice and prevents students from being “the architects of their own educations.” But I argue that it prevents students from being the architects of a crumbling education, void of creativity, flexibility and enjoyment. The potential for unhealthy stress levels and a diminished college experience outweighs the benefits of graduating in three years.
Compared to six semesters, graduating in seven semesters is much more reasonable — and it is permitted by Brown. As the editorial explains, students who wish to graduate in seven semesters must complete petition requirements, which include documented proof of time-sensitive opportunities and the fulfillment of stringent course requirements. While the authors deem these requirements “daunting,” they fail to understand the reasoning behind them. The petition ensures that students are serious about expediting their graduation for valid reasons. And the academic requirements ensure that students are prepared for these endeavors despite the missed semester.
But when it comes to its approach to students’ finances, there is nothing in Brown’s policy worth defending. Protecting students from a limited, grueling six-semester education and asking for proof of reasoning are both helpful to students. But as the editorial points out, Brown requires that “students who are approved for accelerated graduation by the Committee on Academic Standing must still meet Brown’s eight-semester enrollment requirement by paying the tuition charge for the eighth semester.” To make matters worse, the University denies these students financial aid opportunities for that semester. Perhaps this is Brown’s attempt to further discourage students from trying to graduate early in order to make the most of their experiences, or maybe it’s a purely financial ploy to rake in more money. Either way, it’s not fair to students. In this area, I concur with The Herald’s editorial.
Ultimately, Brown’s policy is founded on good intentions, but its decision to financially punish students who do not adhere to the eight-semester limit reveals murkier motives. The elimination of early graduation restrictions completely would be detrimental, but the creation of a seven-semester limit and the removal of the financial requirements would serve students well.
Samantha Savello ’18 can be reached at email@example.com.
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