Post-graduation careers jeopardized by three-semester plan – The Oberlin Review


When COVID-19 first sent students home in March 2020, I was devastated. Although it took me a while to feel at home in Oberlin, by my second year I had grown to love college. There was nowhere else that I would rather be. Now, as a fourth year, that feeling seems beyond foreign. I envy the students in my year who managed to graduate early. Much of this feeling can be attributed directly to the poor decision-making of the college. By choosing to implement a three-semester plan, the College took advantage of the third years, straining them and, most importantly, hampering their ability to prepare for a career after graduation.

In the summer of 2020, Oberlin College found itself in the unenviable position of planning an academic year during a pandemic. They knew, presumably, that determination was needed. And so, through a quick and unclear process, the decision was made to move to a three semester plan. A crucial part of this plan was astounding when the students were on campus. The second and third years would basically be forced to go to summer school. Yet only third years would have a spring semester immediately followed by a summer semester – then begin their final year a month later.

The only logical reason for giving third years the worst time is that they are the least likely to be transferred to another institution. For the most part, they are too used to Oberlin to leave on the basis of an unfair school schedule. If the first and second years were required to do two semesters in a row, many of them might have chosen to study elsewhere. The fourth years never had to worry about this possibility; the College could not have asked them to do a summer semester, as many of them had jobs, graduate studies and other programs starting soon after graduation. Thus, third-year students were stranded on campus from January to September, sacrificing our most valuable career development opportunities for the College’s bottom line.

I know that for me, and for many students I spoke to, the combination of spring and summer semesters was too much. After the spring semester was over, I was exhausted. I had started the semester in January with little energy, emptied of more than ten months of living in my house, separated from my friends. The semester itself was hardly rejuvenating. The punch, however, began the summer semester just ten days after finishing the finals.

In some ways, the summer semester was easier. I gave up some activities, was fortunate enough to live in village accommodation with friends, and took advantage of the temporary removal of COVID-19 restrictions. Yet the exhaustion never left. The spring semester was like driving too fast on a bumpy and dangerous road. The ride was stressful and the wear and tear on the car was immediate. During the summer semester, even though the road flattened out and I was able to drive a little slower, I still drove in the same rutted car. The result was a semester of burnout, prolonged illness, and a reduced ability to complete homework.

This, alone, is frustrating. COVID-19 may have guaranteed my third year would be poor, but college assured it would be miserable. The most infuriating aspect of this, however, isn’t burnout. It is the failure of the College to accompany us in the preparation of a career after Oberlin. Summers are a precious commodity for a student; during the summer we can get jobs to pay tuition fees, internships to strengthen our CV or pursue other opportunities such as intensive language programs and study abroad programs. The summer after our third year is especially important as this is usually the time when internships turn into job openings and when we work on scholarship and graduate applications. Instead, we were tasked with preparing for life after college as we were inundated with classes and exhausted from months of study. None of this is in keeping with the purported purpose of college – to prepare us for careers after graduation.

The Junior Practicum, the College’s solution to the fall semester we spent at home, provided us with a one month remotely paid internship. While this program was largely successful, the Practicum internships replaced opportunities lost due to COVID-19 in our second year. They don’t make up for the time we could have spent drafting large applications and working in person last summer, an opportunity available to most college students across the country.

Before COVID-19, a close friend of mine had study abroad experience and a political internship in the pipeline. These were two essential pieces of the puzzle for their future careers, and they had spent many months networking and applying for the programs. Due to COVID-19, both have been canceled. Without a summer break, they were unable to fill this gap in their resumes and their scholarship applications were compromised. There is simply no substitute for opportunities of this caliber.

When I was preparing this play, another friend of mine wondered what could be done by criticizing the three-semester plan. After all, why should the College ever start over? Yet less than two years ago, we assumed the same thing – that we would still operate on a biannual fall-spring schedule. As far as we know, directors may need to consider a similar plan in the future. If they do, I hope they will remember the toll this took on their students, faculty, and staff – and I hope they wonder if it was worth it.

We must also ask ourselves why the College is so disconnected from the reality of student life. How could administrators forget how critical the last summer is to getting a post-graduate career? Or was this consideration offset by the need to prevent students from transferring? Either way, it is disheartening to feel that the College is sabotaging the careers of its own students, rather than supporting them as it is supposed to.

Now that classes have started, I admit that my desire to graduate as soon as possible has waned. Although the campus is overwhelmed with students and the COVID-19 restrictions cannot be completely lifted, the College feels energized in a way I haven’t felt since before the pandemic. I am delighted to take classes, meet new people and work late in the revision office. I just wish I didn’t also scramble to save my graduate plans, feeling that my years of hard work might not be enough.

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