Course overload: A student’s choice

Nuoya Zhou and Yue Pan

In the fall of 2015, the University Registrar approved a restricted overload policy that goes into effect this winter term. On the school’s website, the registrar listed six specific circumstances in which students are allowed to take more than 14 credits, including re-taking a failed course, attempts to regain on-time graduation and supervised independent research. Before the new policy, filling out an overload form was enough for most students with a reasonable GPA to overload.

On Dec. 7, the Ring-tum Phi published a piece about the updated overload policy. According to  Dean of the College Suzanne Keen, “overloading cuts against the understanding of the education. The education is constructed to have a major, the broad exposure that’s built into the FDRs, and lots of elective courses- so that you can actually have a liberal arts education. It’s not supposed to be a credential collecting game.”

Many W&L students picked a liberal arts college to be exposed to various subjects. A large number of students find that their interests are not limited to just one field. This is not a “credential college game” as Dean Keen mentioned, but a common multi-interest phenomenon among elite W&L students.

If someone makes the decision to double major, he or she might still want to take elective courses other than their major requirements.

This new overload policy will eventually make them fill their four years with mostly major courses. That is exactly why the registrar should loosen the overload policy, so these students can still take classes that they are interested in beyond their double majors.

A senior with a triple major, Xiaoxiang Yang, said he believes the fact that because a standard courseload at W&L—4 courses for both the fall term and winter terms and 1 course during spring term—is still lower than the typical courseload at other big universities, students should take as many classes beyond their major requirements as they wish.

“I feel the main strength of our students is the exposure to different subjects and the ability think outside the box,” Yang said. “Without the possibilities of taking extra courses, we might be at a disadvantage when it comes to applying to jobs or graduate school, especially when taking five or six classes is considered a normal course load at many other schools.”

The restricted overload policy did not influence Yang’s plan to graduate with three degrees because he overloaded multiple times in the past. However, Xiaoxiang’s course history will never be repeated because of the registration policy. Upperclassmen have had the opportunity to overload for several terms in the past. First year and incoming students pay the same tuition and will not have the same opportunities to overload when pursuing two majors, or even three (yeah, it happens).

If the overload policy raised concerns for the faculty about the equity and access issue during class registration, the school can simply add more classes or hire more professors. According to Dean Keen, this decision was not financially driven.

Regarding the Registrar’s concerns with students’ stress levels, instead of totally limiting the overload policy, the registrar could simply raise the minimum GPA required to overload.

College students are adults. We actually know what we are doing when we decide to overload for a term.

If students want to challenge themselves, W&L is not supposed to stop them because of institutional “concerns.” We all know that the world outside of the Lexington bubble is probably more stressful than overloading for a term is.