Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When I received my acceptance letter to the University of Maryland, along with it came an invitation to join the Honors College. While there were multiple programs to choose from within the college, I decided to join the Gemstone honors program — a four-year interdisciplinary research program. Because I had participated in research during high school, I thought pursuing this experience would be an excellent way to grow academically with like-minded individuals.
But when my interests changed, the Honors College — and my degree requirements — did not. While the Honors College is an exciting opportunity to entice students to attend this university, it does not offer enough diversity in courses and status flexibility to keep students interested. Offering more courses in STEM fields, simplifying the internal transfer process and providing students more ways to attain their honors credits through practical experience would help retain more students in Honors College programs.
Put simply, interests change over time. Considering more than 80 percent of college students change their major at least once, it should be expected that students coming into college will have interests that are drastically different from what they first had. Personally, when I became acclimated to college life, I realized my research interest had faded. However, my Honors College program did not anticipate the ever-changing interests of a college student, leaving me with two options: Be unhappy with my schedule or drop the program.
The first option I had was to try to stick it out with the program. However, this was not a feasible option for me because of the heavy time commitment of taking research credits in every semester of my college career. Like most college students, I wanted to pursue my other interests.
My other option was to drop the Gemstone program and internally transfer to the University Honors program. Unfortunately, this option wasn’t great either, as I’d still have to complete at least 15 credits of coursework in courses that predominantly fulfilled the general education requirements I had already attained. In addition, not many of the potential courses were STEM-focused, so as a computer science major, I did not think it was in my academic interest to switch.
The core issue with this university’s Honors College is once you have begun one pathway, it becomes exceedingly difficult to switch to another. Besides the internal transfer opportunity to the University Honors program in the second semester of freshman year, you are practically stuck in whatever program you initially enrolled in as a high school student.
College is a time of learning, growing and discovering new passions. The Honors College should be a conduit for students’ exploration as we develop new interests while diving deeply into the ones we already have.
Offering advanced seminars in fields such as engineering, computer science, chemistry and biology would make the program much more holistic and malleable to students whose interests change once they get on the campus. This university has two excellent programs for students, Global Fellows and Federal Fellows, which allow students to take a fall semester seminar course taught by an industry expert followed by a spring internship experience in the field. This kind of experiential learning could be integrated into the Honors College with seminar offerings from expert practitioners such as lawyers, engineers and scientists who discuss their careers as well as possible internship credits for students to apply their knowledge to the field.
Other universities have honors colleges that meld much better with students’ interests. The Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University, for example, grants students the option to use internships and study abroad programs as a way to earn course credit. While this university’s Honors Humanities program allows students to do this, expanding this option to all honors students would incentivize students to gain professional experience before they graduate.
This university has made improvements to the flexibility of its honors programs by adding two new programs — Interdisciplinary Business Honors and Honors Global Communities — but these new programs still don’t address the core issue: The programs don’t reflect the changing interests of the average college student. Instead of having overarching programs that try to hit at very specific career and academic interests, opening up the Honors College and offering courses that hit a variety of academic disciplines and interests could help honors students create the tailored, top-tier education they are expecting.
Honors students at this university are no different from any other student, and their interests are destined to change; it is just a product of the collegiate environment. Yet, this university forces students to self-select themselves into a restrictive honors program that allows them limited opportunities for mobility and diversity in honors course selection. For the sake of keeping honors students invested in their programs, this university must create more open honors programs with course offerings that specifically help students advance professionally, academically and socially.
Ravi Panguluri is a sophomore computer science and statistics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.