What do you want out of a liberal arts education? If your answer included an abundant knowledge of unrelated fun facts concerning academic subjects in which you otherwise have no education whatsoever, then the College of William and Mary’s College Curriculum might be right up your alley. While liberal arts colleges strive to — and usually succeed in — molding well-rounded and informed students, our confusing and idiosyncratic COLL system has been hindering student progress since December 2013.
COLL 100 and 150 classes chiefly influence freshmen’s first perceptions of the College’s academics. The bizarre, stilted titles of these classes ensure that freshmen have absolutely no idea what they’re getting into. Because of the small quantity of seats available, classes with intriguing titles and highly rated professors fill up instantly.
Unfortunately, all COLL 100 and 150 classes are four credits. These random classes that students decide to take freshman year exert too much influence over their fragile, burgeoning GPAs, especially since these classes are likely irrelevant to their majors and possibly even their interests. Despite the criticism I’ve spewed, I can say without guilt that one of the best classes I have taken here was a COLL 100 (shout out to Professor Prado). This class’s excellence was due to the prowess and passion of the professor, not the strange guidelines and contrived manifesto to “cultivate intellectual growth” that is imposed on COLL 100s and 150s. The success of a class is dependent on the professor, rather than the COLL system.
COLL 200 classes are the strongest element of the College Curriculum enigma. Really, the whole COLL system should just be COLL 200 classes. There are a ton of interesting and diverse courses that fulfill the ALV, CSI, and NQR requirements and lots of great professors to choose from. However, four COLL 200 classes is too many in conjunction with the math, arts and foreign language requirements, along with other COLL classes. This is especially true if your high school didn’t offer many AP/IB credits, or if you’re trying to double major.
The COLL 300 portion of the College Curriculum strongly encourages students to study abroad. Generally, study abroad teeters on a thin line between a culturally enriching, genuinely educational experience and a shameless display of socio-economic privilege. Some study abroad programs are glorified vacations, allowing you to pump out a couple of easy credits to pad your GPA and tell everyone you make eye contact with about how totally different and crazy things are over in western Europe. Other study abroad programs are rigorous, intensely academic and skillfully compel adjustment to a foreign society and standard of living. If for whatever reason a student does not choose to study abroad, the COLL 300 requirement can be fulfilled on campus. Unsurprisingly, these classes are subjected to a nebulous “theme” that changes every semester. Next fall’s theme is mysteriously titled “Bodies that Matter.” Good luck to all rising juniors.
COLL 400 courses are typical senior capstones required by pretty much all colleges. Why a capstone course has to be part of the College Curriculum, and not an independent requirement (like math, arts and foreign language proficiencies), is a mystery that only the malevolent elder gods who first crafted the COLL system can answer. While general education requirements typically associated with liberal arts colleges are crucial for the development of competent students capable of cross-disciplinary literacy and scholarship, the College Curriculum is a disjointed and impractical system that serves as an obstacle to students rather than a boon.
Email Robin Bradley at [email protected]