When people talk about academic requirements, it’s usually with some kind of negative mindset. At first glance, requirements seem like a student’s worst nightmare: just boxes you have to check off in order to get on with what you really want to do. But give them a chance; these very requirements were the best thing to happen to my academic career at St. Lawrence.
Distribution requirements are not specific courses that you have to take, but instead more like general categories. Not every SLU student has to take Math 110, rather we all take different courses that are under the category of Qualitative and Logical Reasoning. Sure, you could take Concepts of Mathematics, but you could also take an upper level philosophy course or a foreign language. These categories give you the opportunity to try fields that you wouldn’t necessarily sign up for on your own, without forcing you to take something you hate (I’ll never go back to my rocky high school French).
The purpose of a liberal arts education is to create well-rounded students, and trying different subjects lets you develop skills you might need in other classes and in the future. Widening your academic scope also allows you to learn about your community, your world, and about yourself. Most importantly, exploring as many different disciplines as possible will further develop a lifelong interest in learning.
Coming into college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, other than I knew I wanted to learn. Not knowing what to take towards my very undecided major, I started by fulfilling my requirements. I tried new subjects, found things that I liked and almost more importantly, discovered what I didn’t like. I learned about where we came from through Biological Anthropology, how to build sets in Stagecraft, and where I fit in the world in Gender and Society.
In the spring of my sophomore year, right before it was time to declare my major, I took Nature and Environmental Writing to fulfill my environmental literacy requirement, one of SLU’s more unique academic requirements. (Environmental Literacy courses focus on the consequences of human activity on natural systems and the various factors that affect environmental policy.) During this class, I discovered a love of nonfiction writing, and realized that it was something I wanted to continue doing. I declared an English major with a concentration in creative writing, and that professor became my new advisor.
Taking this one writing class completely changed my trajectory at St. Lawrence. With guidance from the ever supportive English Department, I began on developing my skills as a writer and doing coursework that truly mattered to me. I now work in the WORD Studio writing center as a peer tutor, spent the summer as an editorial intern at Refinery29, an online magazine, and had the opportunity to participate in a writing-intensive internship with St. Lawrence University Communications.
Academic requirements ultimately helped me discover that I wanted to focus on writing, but along the way, I also got to explore a variety of different disciplines. I’ve tried subjects that didn’t stick, but I know that the learning experiences I had during those courses will be with me for much longer than a semester. Most importantly, the ability to explore during my education is the purpose of liberal arts, and has fostered a love of learning that will last a lifetime.