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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

REFRESHMENT IN THE SEMINAR

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Although only a small number of undergraduates ever find their way into seminar courses, these session are of great value. Some of them, it is true, are over-run with a pedantic variety of graduate students but most of them have plenty of room for the enterprising undergraduate who is willing to compete in an advanced group.

A highly personalized type of instruction is offered in these seminars, the proportion of pupils to professors being generally about eight or ten to one as against about five hundred to one in such courses as History 1, and Government 1.

Individual instruction from a good instructor in a seminar course can provide more stimulus to study than any number of brilliant lectures in a large classroom. And furthermore, the personalization is different from tutorial seances since the undergraduate gets the other students' points of view about his own subject as well as the tutor's outlook.

Perhaps more important than this individualization of instruction is the method of study in the seminars. Most of the work is the thesis type, where the thesis is everything. A large amount of these courses have no examinations at all. The seminars, however, are not for persons on the lookout for "snap" courses, stand-bys of the tutoring schools. For although one thesis is often the whole story, this one thesis is likely to occasion as much work as a stiff course with examinations. No outside source can help the student; he must produce his work by himself and by his own investigation. He may even have to resort to using a stack privilege in Widener to get his facts. But this task is worth the effort, since a thesis written is a thesis learned, while a course taken is not always a course learned.

A seminar in an instructor's room, with smoking allowed, presents the student with a refreshing contrast to the run-of-the-mill sessions in Harvard, Emerson, or Sever, where he is often confronted with an uninspiring lecture and a bafflingly large reading list.

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