Pre-Concentration Frustration

Prerequisites to declaring a major, while a nuisance, are necessary

Figuring out what courses to take is always a trying affair. But this year, certain sophomores have been particularly frustrated by red tape. They learned that Social Studies 10, “Introduction to Social Studies,” the foundational sophomore tutorial for the concentration, is considered, according to the Courses of Instruction, to be “a prerequisite for sophomores applying to social studies.” This unpleasant discovery has drawn its fair share of discontent from potential social studies concentrators, who claim that they are effectively being forced to choose their concentration long before the official deadline of Monday, Dec. 3.

Students who elect to concentrate in social studies later than sophomore fall can elect to take Social Studies 10 concurrently with the one-semester tutorial in their junior year. Taking two intensive tutorials in one semester would, however, be less than ideal. But potential social studies concentrators are not alone in facing full-year tutorials as sophomores. Students interested in astronomy are “strongly encouraged” to take Astronomy 97hf, a half-course that lasts through both semesters. The Classics department requires a full-year tutorial for sophomores, and students are “strongly recommended” to take the east Asian studies tutorial beginning the fall of their sophomore year. What’s more, science and math courses often have prerequisites that require students to take courses in those departments well before the official concentration declaration date.

While we support the shift in concentration choice from the end of freshman spring to the end of sophomore fall, it is still perfectly legitimate for departments to mandate that students take certain courses before declaring their field in December. Academic exploration requires a certain degree of responsibility, and we would be loath to endorse students choosing concentrations in which they have little to no knowledge or experience. Certain academic fields, such as social studies or mathematics, require a foundation of knowledge upon which to build subsequent study. It is necessary for these departments to mandate prerequisites so that students have the skills and understanding to take full advantage of upper-level courses. Furthermore, intensive concentrations such as social studies enroll dozens of students who subsequently drop out; previous experience in the department would guide students to a better fit in their initial choice of concentration.

Recognizing that students often change concentrations for good reason, departments should create a plausible way to switch intended concentration in the middle of sophomore year or later. In the case of social studies and concentrations with similar requirements, we are concerned that failure to take foundational courses in the fall of sophomore year could be perceived by the department as a lack of commitment. Social studies and other concentrations should not penalize students who may take longer to settle on a given concentration.

Freshmen and sophomores are on the receiving end of a cacophony of advice about class choice. In the midst of the chaos, we hope they hear a few words of wisdom. Take advantage of delayed concentration choice: Enroll in a variety of classes, but experiment wisely.