The notion of mutual exclusivity in your education — that your studies either have to be an inch deep and a mile wide or an inch wide and a mile deep — should not exist at Penn.
The width of your education refers to the range of disciplines that you study, while the depth emphasizes how much you choose to specialize. At Penn, since students often have the freedom to combine the width and depth of their studies, we should try to create a well-rounded education for ourselves.
After leaving high school, I knew that I never wanted to study anything other than science ever again. I was sure that I wanted to be a scientist. What need did I have for learning how to analyze literary works or understanding the history of the world? In short, I thought the idea of a broad liberal arts education was a waste of time.
Fast forward three years, and I, the person who thought he had it all figured out, have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life. Almost everyone at Penn has been in one of these two boats, usually both.
In light of not having an inkling of a life plan, I have come to realize the immense value of a liberal arts education — a model of higher education that Penn was built on, yet in many ways has been forgotten from the ideals of the modern Penn student.
Given that three of the four undergraduate schools at Penn are professional in nature, Penn is inherently a pre-professional place. It is no surprise that about 40 percent of Penn students find their jobs through the notorious on-campus recruiting process. In a place with so many career-oriented students, I do not believe that it is in any way a bad thing. Penn students are great at getting the depth that propels them toward their career goals.
I do, however, believe that Penn students, as a whole, should place more value in the idea of a broad education. I know that requirements, policies and other pressures can sometimes make this a challenge, but it is still important to do what you can to learn from a wide range of disciplines.
In 1740, Ben Franklin founded Penn with the goal to train students to be leaders in business, government and public service. His broad knowledge spanned a multitude of disciplines, allowing him to contribute to fields as distant as science and government.
Almost 300 years later, Franklin’s innovative model of a practical liberal arts education still holds immense value in today’s global economy. According to a survey of business and nonprofit leaders by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93 percent of employers believe that the ability to think critically, communicate and solve complex problems is more important than your major. Even further, a majority of employers surveyed emphasized that they value ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills and the ability to apply knowledge in a real-world setting.
And 80 percent of these employers agree that every student should receive a broad education in the liberal arts and sciences.
The idea that receiving a practical, skills-based education and receiving a liberal arts education are mutually exclusive is, in my opinion, quite pervasive on Penn’s campus. But why is that the case?
Hard skills are incredibly valuable. Learning how to code, manage money and write papers are examples of incredibly useful abilities.
But the intellectual curiosity that is developed through a broad education is equally as critical to being successful in anything you do. Studying a broad range of topics will inevitably teach you to think for yourself, communicate effectively and foster a capacity for lifelong learning.
Every school has developed its curriculum to provide students the ability to explore outside of their areas of study. It should not always be about finding the easiest class to fulfill the sector requirement that you are dreading or the safest way to satisfy your global environment requirement that is directly applicable to your career plan.
General education requirements are in place to help you to become a well-rounded student and citizen. When you focus too intently on one discipline, you miss out on the opportunity to understand different facets of the world and the different modes of thinking that come with a liberal arts education.
College is, in many ways, your last opportunity to learn for the sake of learning. Take advantage of that.
SHAWN SROLOVITZ is an Engineering junior from Manalapan, N.J., studying bioengineering. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Srol With It” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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