The case for a two-school undergraduate degree

I can’t be the only one who’s feeling the size of Lawrence right about now. It’s Spring Term of my sophomore year, the halfway point of a typical degree sequence, and I feel, in a word, cramped.

There’s nowhere to go on campus where I’m not recognized, which is not always a bad thing, especially if you hate sitting alone at dinner. But I find myself more and more desiring a bit more anonymity, a practical impossibility on a campus this size. I feel as though everyone to meet has been met, and every experience spent.

I know this restlessness is common and probably one of the reasons so many Lawrentians spend time off campus. Though I do hope to study abroad at some point, I have a different and admittedly more drastic solution to the small school burnout phenomenon: everyone pursuing a non-vocational degree would spend their first two years at a small liberal arts school and their next two at a larger state school in their home state.

This is already kind of done at state schools, which often require about two years’ worth of general education courses. That said, those general education classes differ vastly from those taught here at Lawrence, which, like other small schools, is better suited to teaching them. Smaller class sizes, for one thing, make sense for nearly all general education classes that purport to make you “learn how to think.” That doesn’t happen if dozens or hundreds of classmates overwhelm your thoughts.

Small schools are also easier to transition to right out of high school. When there’s a smaller pool of people, it’s easier to seek out those with similar interests and form relationships. I know friends at large state schools who didn’t find their niche until two years into their degree, a fact they attributed to the sheer size of their institution.

At the two-year mark, when all of the “basic” classes are complete, students would transfer to a state school. (Additionally, when a student-body is small enough to require an eponymous “look-around,” it’s also small enough for people to gauge where they are on the totem pole and thus feel the need to claw their way up. Moving to a large school would stop this process and also prevent any big fish/little pond syndrome.

I specified that the state school be in the home state. One big reason in three words: in-state tuition. Another is related to the search for employment and internships.

Regarding jobs: businesses in Kansas City (my home town) don’t hire me because I’m gone during the school year. And businesses here in Appleton hesitate to hire students because we’re gone over breaks.

During the 18 years I spent in Kansas City, I made many connections to people in industries I’m interested in who could provide opportunities or advice. But splitting my time between here and there means they can only help so much. A move back home in the third year of school means those connections won’t die off.

Regarding internships: because of the unfortunate fact that so many internships are unpaid, it makes sense to look for one near a place you can live for cheap or free. Home with la familia is the obvious answer.

This plan will not be ideal for everyone. Some people want to strike out from home with their high school diploma, get as far away as possible and never look back. I understand that. Some think the idea of spending any time at a school with just 1500 students is appalling. I get that one too.

But there are many good reasons why a two-school undergraduate experience makes a lot of sense and, I think, should be encouraged. You may say, “Well, Andrea, no one’s keeping you at this tiny school—why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?” To which I respond: way ahead of you.