January 29, 2002

CAPS plan doesn't help much

I recently read a passage in a booklet from CAPS outlining the "four-year career plan" that students should follow in college. At the end of your four years here, if you follow the instructions, you will not only graduate — you will also have the career of your dreams, admission to the graduate school of your fantasies, and the hairstyle you've always wanted but never been able to get. Reading this plan, I was taken back to a similar experience I once had during my high school freshman orientation. All 800-odd (pun intended) freshmen at my math-science school were told to set up our college folders immediately, to start asking teachers for recommendations, perhaps even before classes began, and to avoid wearing leather jackets on the subway. During most of high school, I gave no thought to college, not out of any faith I had in all that I was learning in my Global Studies class, but because I simply didn't know what would appeal to me as a junior or senior in high school. Unlike many at my high school, however, I never fell into the class-cutting-to-play-Magic trap, which is why I was able to get into college.

This brings me back to the CAPS four-year plan. The plan involves informing college students that the secret road to success involves seeing one's academic advisor and choosing activities one finds interesting. Why not suggest showering, spending fewer than 20 hours a day on video games, and attending more than 50 percent of one's classes? Anyone who actually needs to use this plan as a checklist most likely did not complete his own college applications. By second year, according to the plan, one should attain leadership positions or do committee work. If extracurricular activities truly were extracurricular, however, they would not always correspond to one's academic strengths, but rather to one's interests, and thus people could feel free to participate in activities in which they were not star players. The need for second-years to be a "leaders" suggests that people should not try activities they did not participate in while in high school, which offers a dreary view of college at best. One of my main problems with such a plan is the idea that, if not presented with such a list, students would spend their time here moping in their rooms, going out to weekday frat parties, or, God forbid, just focusing on school work rather than turning themselves into well-rounded "industry-fodder," to quote Edina from Absolutely Fabulous. If this school's admissions process is purported to select only those students who have both academic drive and interests that extend outside the classroom, then why would undergraduates here need such a list?

Third-year students are advised by the plan to "[t]alk with a CAPS counselor to help you explore your interests further." I don't know about you, but I think I'm capable of exploring my interests far enough without being counseled to do so. One would think that one area of life at this school that would not need to be mentioned in this plan is academic work.

It is assumed here that everyone has lots of schoolwork to do, and for the most part, lots of it gets done. However, the first thing "planned" for first-year students is, "Use your common core classes to explore a broad range of subjects and to build fundamental writing, research, analytical, and communication skills." This has got to be the most depressing way of saying, "Do well in hum, it's good for you!"

If a person is both attracted by and admitted to this college, he not only will try to do well academically, but he will notice the massive construction-paper posters in the Reynolds Club and the fliers in dorms promoting the seemingly infinite groups and activities on campus, attend some meetings, and maybe, just maybe, attain "leadership positions." I see nothing wrong with a resource on campus with jobs listings, and with counselors who can help students navigate them. Nor do I see any problem with a person going to a career advisor, stating his interests, and getting advised on which careers those interests may lead to. However, CAPS is most useful for people who know what their interests are, and who are well qualified for the jobs towards which they wish to be steered. Anyone who needs a four-year plan to tell him that he should spend college amassing credentials might not come across too well on an interview.

Still, what concerns me most about the idea of a four-year plan is that one crucial difference between college and high school is that in college, motivation and initiative are supposed to come from the individual, and not from guidance counselors or homeroom teachers. Providing students with a checklist of how to get through college "successfully" provides an opportunity for students never to develop the sort of spontaneous, self-derived decision-making skills that high schools tend to discourage. I would advise that students should make use of the resources CAPS has to offer, but that any list providing a bland outline of the college experience should not be taken seriously.