The Case for a 4-Year College Education

By: Kira Paley  |  December 20, 2018

By Kira Paley, Editor in Chief

It’s a known fact that YC, Stern, and Syms–perhaps unofficially–are three-year institutions. That is, students who take a gap-year after high school matriculate in the schools with the expectation that they will graduate in three years. To do so, they must complete a major, and all of the general education requirements and Judaic studies requirements in six semesters. In this editorial, I will write only about Beren general education and Judaic studies requirements, for that is where my experience lies. As my penultimate semester comes to an end, it has become clear that the three-year undergraduate model, at a dual-curriculum institution, is problematic, for the following reasons.

First, it requires that students who are majoring and minoring in something take six or seven courses every semester, which can add up to over 24 credits if a student takes more than one lab course. During semesters in which students are on Judaic Studies core–meaning that they are taking three Judaic Studies courses whose grades are averaged into one grade on the student’s transcript–students take three or four other classes, which perhaps is not unreasonable. Nonetheless, they still have to devote some time and energy to their three Judaic Studies courses. Students who are no longer on core are still required to take at least one Judaic Studies course per semester, which leaves them taking either five or six other courses. In addition to allotting time and energy to a perhaps unnecessary Judaic course, they are dividing their time between this large number of courses, and perhaps extracurricular activities, graduate school entrance exams and applications, employment, volunteer hours, etc. Students are spread thin between their requirements and activities, resulting in increased stress, less time for leisure and self-care, and perhaps even lower grades, to name a few.

Second, it requires that students determine their major and minor almost immediately upon arriving at the school, in order to ensure that prerequisite courses are completed and the major is completed in six semesters. Students thus have less time to explore the disciplines that interest them, and take general education requirements and electives as a means to figure out what to major in as opposed to simply to fulfill the requirements. Part of the college experience, arguably, is exploring multiple academic fields and taking courses which encourage students to think in unexpected ways. When students start college with their eyes set on graduating in three years, they become less inclined to explore academically and more inclined to declare a major as soon as possible.

Third, it only allows for two summers–one in between the first and second year, and one in between the second and third. Students who switch majors mid-college or need to take summer courses do not have as many summers to obtain professional experience through internships or volunteering.

Since so many students complete their degrees in three years, it has become the norm and the undergraduate schools have become three-year institutions. As a result, students who for example did not take a gap year, or students who cannot complete their requirements in three years feel as though they are the outliers. Their friends and peers graduate, while they are left to complete their studies as “super-seniors” while in truth, they are simply seniors.

Forgoing my contempt for cliches for a moment, if I could travel back in time to Fall 2016 and speak to my naive younger self, I would tell her to spend four years at Stern. Though now, the thought of staying in these halls a fourth year is troubling, there is so much more I could have done if I did not squeeze a four year education into three years. I could have taken more classes out of genuine interest, not simply to get a requirement out of the way. I could have devoted more time and effort to my science courses and perhaps scored better on exams as a result. I could have attended more extracurricular events at night and on weekends. I could have set aside one semester to take my MCAT, taking fewer courses that semester to focus on studying for the exam.

The three-year culture is perhaps a symptom of the career-oriented nature of the undergraduate schools in that more emphasis is placed on professional success than on academic curiosity and experience. It is understandable that students who took gap years are itching to transition from school to the workforce, and of course there is the financial strain of a fourth year in college. But as we continually examine and reassess our school’s values, we should keep in mind how the career-centered outlook of YU individuals is detrimental to students’ personal and academic lives.

Life is long, what’s another year in college?