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Tagged: Liberal arts

First-year files: The “special sauce” at University of Chicago

January 18th, 2022

The new year is a great time to reflect on the year past: the challenges, the joys, and all the experiences created. I like to encourage Shrop Ed advisees who are now in their first year of college to look back on their first semester. These insights and experiences can often help younger students as college choice decisions are near.

Image via University of Chicago News

In today’s installment of “first-year files,” a student who attends the University of Chicago after taking a gap year shares her experiences. This post is a great distillation of University of Chicago’s intellectual environment, which I consider its “special sauce,” and I am delighted Jenny is willing to be so candid. I believe this is a great read for students as they continue to decide what direction their lives will take.

Jenny’s first year experience from University of Chicago shared below….

I loved my first quarter at UChicago. I took a gap year before coming to college, and to me, being at college combines the best of being in high school and being on gap year––––I have the school community and daily schedule of high school to ensure my productivity, but I also have much greater freedom to make my own schedule and decide what to pursue like throughout my gap year.

I took math, physics, and a core humanities class called Philosophical Perspectives this past quarter. In my philosophy class, we studied ethics through books like Plato’s Five Dialogues and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Our class discussed topics such as “Is anyone really morally responsible for their actions?” and “If someone you love becomes unvirtuous, should you stop loving them?” In my physics class, we built upon students’ knowledge from AP Mechanics and learned techniques for solving physics problems. The coolest part of our class was that our professor was part of the team of physicists who discovered the Higgs-boson particle. After our final, he hosted a social event for our class and shared his experience of working with scientists all over the world on experimental particle physics.

I’ve enjoyed all three of my classes, yet my math class, Honors Real Analysis I, stood out the most. It is the most difficult class I’ve ever taken but also the most rewarding. The class was fast paced: we covered Treil’s Linear Algebra Done Wrong and Rudin’s Principles of Mathematical Analysis in nine weeks. I spent many nights and weekends in the library reading textbooks and doing problem sets with my friends, but I don’t regret any second of it for the beauty of mathematics the class has shown me. It was my favorite class this quarter, and I’ve tentatively decided on a math major based on my experience.

Aside from finding the classes incredibly engaging, I also felt a sense of community and strong intellectual atmosphere at UChicago. Unlike in high school, where I sometimes felt like students separate into cliques based on athletic abilities, academic interests, or cultural backgrounds, in college, I’ve found it much easier to talk to students who, upon first glance, seem completely different from me. Additionally, students here have more diverse passions and stronger interests in intellectual discussions. I know someone whose goal is to join psychology academia and research human happiness, but he also loves soccer and Go. Another friend of mine could have pursued music professionally, but decided instead to study physics and keeps a 20-pages+ google doc of her physics theory ideas. UChicago students diverge in their interests, social-cultural backgrounds, and beliefs, but I think most of us share a hunger for knowledge and eagerness to make our mark in the world, and that, to me, makes the school an inspiring place to be.

We’re grateful to Jenny for her generosity in sharing experiences with others, and wish her continued success at UChicago!

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The power of a liberal arts degree in the workforce

October 29th, 2019

In today’s workforce there is a lot of emphasis on STEM degrees, which can be intimidating and discouraging for liberal arts college students. While tech skills are increasingly important as more jobs are created by escalating advances in technology, the foundational skills provided by a liberal arts degree are a major asset in the workplace.

Image by Cornelia Li via New York Times

Critical thinking, problem-solving and the ability to collaborate with different viewpoints are key skills that create strong employees and leaders. These “soft skills” learned through a liberal arts education prepare students to work in a wide variety of settings. In the article referenced below from The New York Times, statistics are given to show that liberal arts degrees are often winning the “salary race” in the long run due to the broad intellectual training this degree provides.

Article referenced below from The New York Times, published September 20, 2019 written by David Deming

In the Salary Race, Engineers Sprint but English Majors Endure

For students chasing lasting wealth, the best choice of a college major is less obvious than you might think.

The conventional wisdom is that computer science and engineering majors have better employment prospects and higher earnings than their peers who choose liberal arts.

This is true for the first job, but the long-term story is more complicated.

The advantage for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) majors fades steadily after their first jobs, and by age 40 the earnings of people who majored in fields like social science or history have caught up.

To read more go to New York Times>>

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Freshman Files: Liberal arts on a block plan

March 5th, 2018

Today Amy J. shares her unique experience as a first-year student at Colorado College.  CC is one of only a handful of schools that operate on a block plan:  full immersion into a single course, devoting all energies to completing a semester’s work in 3 ½ weeks.  Over the course of the academic year, students complete just as many courses as they would in a traditional semester schedule.  The students and professor become a team, in a way, and as classes at Colorado College are small it’s quite a remarkable environment.

We’re grateful that Amy is willing to share her experience as a new student at Colorado College and wish her continued success and happiness ahead!

Academics: Block plan makes the academics at CC pretty intense. All freshmen start … with the First Year Experience (FYE), a two-block class of their choice … and the professors teaching FYE usually offer more help to these freshmen for their transition to college. My FYE was introduction to comparative literature, and it was especially challenging for me due to the fast pace of a “block” – we finished our discussion of a book in two to three days on average, and sometimes it was just one day for one book. The first week was probably the hardest: we finished Homer’s Iliad in five days! … But luckily, … I found our professor’s lecture so fascinating. … She also invited us to her house for the first Sunday’s brunch, and it was a great experience!

We had another professor teaching us for the second block of FYE …The reading load each day was still a challenge to me, but … I gained confidence in my writing through the paper grades and my two professors’ encouraging comments. …

The third block I took elementary French I, and … learning a language in a block was intense in that we had 3 hours of online practice as homework every day…

Activities: … My Priddy trip (a five-day outdoor and service trip mandatory for every new student to participate before school starts) to Santa Fe was actually my first time going overnight camping and seeing the starry, starry night. … The last night in Santa Fe national forest was my favorite – our group merged with another group that camped nearby, and sitting around a bonfire, we got to know each other, chatted, and asked our leaders questions about CC life. The ambience was fantastic. …

My next outdoor experience at CC was rock climbing on the first Saturday after school started. Again it was my first rock climbing experience – although it was scary at times when I couldn’t find a spot to place my feet, it was a lot of fun! From then on, I began to love this sport.

The third one was my FOOT trip, a 5-day backpacking trip during the first block break specially organized for freshmen to further experience the outdoors in Colorado. We went to a place called “Lost Creek Wilderness” and I was really impressed by the beautiful aspens whose leaves turned yellow in late September. The views were fantastic, as if in a dream. …

The fourth one was another rock-climbing in a nearby mountain. It was a trip included in the “rock school” – a class teaching rock climbing skills that I signed up for …

My fifth outdoor experience was phenomenal: I went on a 10-day road trip to several national parks with some other international students and some Americans who did not go back home during the Thanksgiving break. We went to Canyonlands National Park in Utah, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon in Arizona, and Zion and Bryce national parks in Utah. I witnessed, for so many times, the magic of mother Nature in this trip… Amazing. I was so so lucky. CC is definitely my place.

Something about CC’s outdoor culture:  The Outdoor Education Center is a big part at CC. Students can take trainings to become a backcountry level 1, 2 or even level 3 leader, or a leader in other tracks such as rock climbing and skiing. Then these student leaders can plan and lead their trips.  Students can simply sign up for a trip on “Summit” (a website) and most trips do not cost much. Therefore, people who love outdoor sports will definitely love CC!

Overall, my first semester at CC was wonderful and full of new and exciting experiences. I think that block breaks really give students a lot of opportunities to travel and to have fun. …

Though blocks are hard, my first semester’s experience clearly proved what I had said in my application essay: CC is my best fit.

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You can do anything: The “surprising power” of a liberal arts education

November 13th, 2017

Many of you have heard me say that a liberal arts education is ideal for learning how to learn – in fact, you might have had trouble getting me to stop talking about it!

As a graduate of a liberal arts college myself, I have always stood behind the view that a liberal arts education develops analytical and creative thinking skills, oral and written communication skills, and equips students for a life of learning and adapting to new environments.  Although a liberal arts education isn’t the right path for everyone, it has tremendous value.

In today’s blog, we share Inside Higher Ed’s interview with author George Anders about his book, You Can Do Anything.  Anders shares useful data to support his opinion that a liberal arts degree is deepening in value, given major changes happening in the job market today.  The underlying theory is that those who have not simply acquired a finite knowledge set, but who know how to learn and pivot, have tremendous opportunities in the long run.  

Article below referenced from Inside Higher Ed

Robots are taking over the world (and the job market). Majoring in anything but a science or engineering discipline is foolhardy. A humanities or social science degree will get you a great job — as a barista.


Read enough internet headlines and all of those might seem not only feasible but inevitable. But like many sweeping, future-looking statements, those and other proclamations about the decline and fall of the liberal arts should be taken with a truckload of salt.

Read more at Inside Higher Ed >>

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