Sixteen first years dropped out of the Directed Studies program before the spring semester, representing a drop rate roughly equal to those of past years.
Fifteen percent of the 104 students originally enrolled in the three sections of DS — Literature, Philosophy and Historical & Political Thought — opted out of the classes for the spring. According to Course Demand Statistics, 87 students are enrolled in all three DS classes, and one added student is only enrolled in Literature. Drop rates have been steadily decreasing for the past three years — moving from 24, 19 and 14 percent in the 2016-2017, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years, respectively. This year is also the first time in recent years that a student has opted out of some, but not all, DS courses, according to OCS data.
“I’d say that it’s not unusual to have some students drop for scheduling or personal reasons, and this year is no different in this regard,” Katja Lindskog, the Director of Undergraduate Studies for DS, wrote in an email to the News. “The position of the program (which I personally share) is that taking just one or two strands is not a good option, as so much of the distinctive good of the program comes from the integrated experience of the three strands.”
Jacob Feit Mann ’23, one of the students who dropped DS this semester, originally enrolled to develop a strong background in the humanities and learn about historical thinkers. But Feit Mann found the fast-pace of the readings and the numerous essays to be unenjoyable.
Still, he does not think the program overall should change its curriculum.
“My issue was that the program is a little too ambitious, but to change that would make it not DS anymore,” Feit Mann said. “At the end of the day, there’s not much that could change without it being a fundamentally different program. And I’m not sure that the program needs changing, since it works for a lot of people. I’m just not one of those I guess.”
History lecturer Terence Renaud, who has spoken to students who dropped out of the program this year as well as in years past, said that many students cited the hefty time commitment as a reason to drop. Because DS takes up three course credits, he said he often sees students drop DS out of a desire to enroll in introductory courses or requirements for other disciplines.
DS is a chronological program, so students study ancient texts in the fall and more recent texts in the spring. As such, students who drop before the spring semester end up only focusing on ancient texts and theories, which Renaud said is a loss for those trying to understand the full Western canon.
“Much can be learned from ancient and medieval texts, but I think that it’s reasonable to argue that the political, philosophical, and literary concerns of the modern era are closer to our own in the early 21st century,” Renaud wrote in an email to the News. “That modern material only comes in the second semester. Perhaps the chronological order isn’t the best way to organize the DS curriculum, but that’s the structure we have at the moment.”
Matt Song ’23, who chose to stay in DS for the spring semester, said that he enjoys the topics and did not want to lose out on learning the material because he “couldn’t handle the heat.” He did mention the high workload as a major reason people drop, but he said that for him, the workload is not bad enough to justify leaving the program.
Although Song enjoys DS, he said that others cite poor section dynamics, the lack of in-depth reading analysis or a general dislike for one of the three disciplines as reasons for dropping. All of these, he said, are valid reasons to drop out — they just were not problems for him.
“I think the biggest issue is really just the difference between the idea of doing DS and the reality of the program, which many students don’t realize or happen to overlook because the program just seems so perfect on the outside,” Song said. “That’s not to say that it’s worse than expectations, just different.”
The Directed Studies program began in 1947.
Amelia Davidson | firstname.lastname@example.org