Gates: Learn from different majors, don’t compare them


Matt Gates, Columnist

Northwestern’s size is one of the things I like about the school. It’s big enough that you will never stop meeting new people. It’s small enough that there will always be familiar faces. In a school of this size, we are all NU students, but we also inevitably divide ourselves into subgroups to make the ocean of faces on campus manageable. The word “division” tends to carry a negative connotation on college campuses, but some amount of division makes sense and is not necessarily a bad thing. Whether we live on North or South Campus, our specific dorms, our years, our schools and our majors are all divisions that tend to occur naturally. However, the different schools and majors at NU could benefit from respecting and learning from each other rather than creating a culture of division and competition.

Some majors might tend to give out lower grades on average than others, but to call one major “harder” than another is making a subjective judgment that differs from person to person. Different majors require very different skill sets, and what is “hard” for one person may not be as hard for someone else. Humanities majors might struggle with a math requirement. Hard science majors or engineers might be overwhelmed by the amount of reading required in some English or history classes.

Although it is not fair for one major to say another is harder, it is also not fair to try to compare grade point averages across majors. (Not that I’m advocating comparing GPAs at all.) Some majors, and some schools within NU, have higher average GPAs than others. Some majors may be called “harder” in that they give lower grades on average. But averages do not tell the full story. Major 1 might hand out more Cs than Major 2. But achieving an A in each major could be equally difficult. Even if one major truly does give out lower grades on the whole, this still does not tell the whole story. Getting the A is not always everything. Achieving true mastery of the material in any major is hard.

Sometimes the NU community does compare GPAs without examining the major they were earned in as well. When the University compares the average GPA in each Greek house for example, it fails to take into account which major or which school those GPAs were earned in. One house may have more members in a school that has a lower-than-average GPA. Perhaps there is no better way of presenting this information. However, it does prove that the statistic should be taken with a grain of salt.

It is also not fair to compare extracurricular participation across majors. A major in RTVF, Theatre or Medill is more likely to be expected to engage in extracurriculars associated with their field. Less pre-professional majors in Weinberg might be more likely to be involved in activities not directly related to their major. Majors that require labs or a higher number of credits may take away from extracurricular involvement. Creating a competition over who is doing the best academically and involved in the most activities is never a good idea, but creating one that compares beakers to encyclopedias is even more problematic.

People in different majors should make an effort to learn from each other. We may not be as likely to be in classes together, to be able to study together or even to be involved in the same extracurriculars, but we can still learn things from each other that will be useful inside and outside the classroom. A philosophy major can learn from a math major how the discoveries of Aristotle have become the foundation for a concept in modern mathematics. A religion major can explain to a biological sciences major how Darwin’s discoveries transformed more than just biology. Competition over who works harder or does more should have been left behind in high school. College is about studying what you want to study and respecting and learning from what others want to study.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to [email protected].