May 22, 2007

The early bird gets the worm

Attending the University of Chicago is supposed to give students an edge when they venture into the real world and apply for jobs and internships. However, since spring quarter drags on for weeks after other schools have ended their semesters, many potential employers are disinclined to hire students who cannot begin work until mid-June.

Accordingly, administrators should alter the academic calendar and end the year earlier. Most universities conclude the academic year in May, and professional organizations tend to begin their internship programs a few weeks later. Meanwhile, U of C students are still taking their final exams.

While the U of C prides itself on being different, the calendar puts its students at an unnecessary disadvantage by ignoring the timetables of summer employers and the schedules of other schools. Employers prefer that all interns begin at the same time, and they are turned off by the idea of Chicago stragglers showing up weeks after the rest of their summer work corps. Consequently, students are unable to parlay their top-notch educations into top-tier summer work; prestigious positions are instead procured by students from schools with lesser reputations but more convenient end-dates. In addition, most seasonal service and retail jobs are already filled once U of C students finally return to their hometowns.

Administrators in the Law School have already acted to ameliorate the disadvantages caused by the late end to the school year. Spring courses for second- and third-year law students have been cut to only eight weeks so that students can report to coveted clerkships and internships. Nonetheless, law students still arrive at their firms a few weeks after other summer associates. As a result, they trail their peers on the learning curve and miss out on weeks of pay. This unfortunate occurrence illustrates the inconvenience of the current calendar—even when the Law School sacrifices two weeks of class time, its students are still forced to play catch-up.

Obviously, administrators could end the year earlier by starting it earlier as well. Autumn quarter now begins toward the end of September, as much as six weeks after peer institutions open their doors. This delay leaves U of C students at home with nothing to do; their friends have returned to school and their summer work has come to a close. Such a change would also mean that winter quarter is interrupted by winter break, providing a vacation midway through the academic year, rather than 10 days after Thanksgiving.

So we fight on, students against the schedule, held back annually unto the last.