October 24, 2008

Graduate aid

The "educator of educators" needs to do a better job helping students in their paths to graduate school.

For a school that prides itself on being an “educator of educators,” the resources the University of Chicago provides for students applying to graduate school prove remarkably paltry.

Eighty-five percent of U of C students attend graduate school within five years of graduation—higher than any other American college. And yet the U of C’s general graduate school resources can be distilled down to two websites that have little more information than one could gather by typing “grad school” into Wikipedia, as well as the standard advice to “stop by CAPS.”

Imagine instead if the University implemented programs that would assist students unsure about the application process, recognizing that most undergraduates are interested in continuing their educations after leaving Hyde Park. The result would be mutually beneficial, as the University’s reputation would continue to improve as more graduates were accepted at better schools.

A natural first step would be for the University to introduce a test prep class for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) that would be available to students who want to brush up on both the format and the content of the exam.

The College’s advising website helpfully informs students that they “should not assume that a test preparation course is necessary,” offering no further advice for those students who, having weighed the pros and cons, decide that a prep course is right for them. But by having the University teach or subsidize such a course on campus, students could avoid the exorbitant costs, scheduling conflicts, and long commutes of private classes taught downtown. Most importantly, they’d be better prepared heading into test day.

Similar programs are already in place on a departmental basis for those required to take GRE subject tests, and in pre-professional programs for law and medical students. There’s no reason why the University can’t offer a comparable program for the general test. At the very least, the University could license internet-based GRE prep software and make it available on the CAPS website.

The Dean of Students office should also reevaluate the usefulness and utility of annual adviser meetings for upperclassmen. With their high job turnover and lack of face-to-face contact with their students, College advisers are ill-suited to serve as mentors or write recommendations for graduate school. Additionally, because of the wide range of students they work with, advisers can’t provide much assistance to students about resources available within their departments. Instead, many students simply trot in and out of Harper with a fresh copy of the course requirement sheet, and no idea of what to do next.

For the vast majority of U of C undergrads seeking higher degrees, the University is in a position to extend a helping hand.