Liberal Arts Education
The U.S. system of higher education may be quite different from that of your country. At the undergraduate level, many U.S. colleges and universities offer what is called a liberal arts education, the purpose of which is to insure both breadth and depth of learning. Students gain exposure to a broad range of subjects by taking courses in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. This broad base of learning serves to complement specialization in a major field of study.
Some students are initially hesitant about taking courses outside their major area, but most appreciate the opportunity to explore various fields of interest. Some modify their academic plans because of the educational growth that liberal arts learning provides. For example, students may decide to choose a new major, to double-major in seemingly unrelated fields, or to minor in fields quite different from their majors. Regardless of their majors, almost all students graduate with a deep appreciation of the value of a liberal arts education. We therefore urge you to keep an open mind and to sample courses in a variety of academic disciplines.
In addition to classroom learning, participation in co-curricular activities, clubs, and in volunteer work plays a very important role in an Earlham education. These experiences give students the opportunity to develop leadership skills and work together on common projects or concerns.
Class Participation and Evaluation
The approach to education and learning at Earlham may be different from what you are used to and may require a change in your study habits. You will be expected to attend classes regularly, to participate in class discussions, and to keep up with regular reading and other homework assignments. It will be your responsibility to read the syllabus carefully, to know when assignments are due, and to submit them in a timely manner. Most professors evaluate student work quite frequently during the course, through assignments, quizzes, papers, and examinations. The final examination makes up only a portion of the final grade in a course. Professors will tell you, often on the first day of class, what they expect from you and how they will evaluate you. If you want more information or do not understand, do not hesitate to seek clarification from your professors.
In most courses, class participation is encouraged and counted as part of the overall grade. Students are expected to ask questions about material they do not understand, to share their opinions and comments, and to contribute to the class. Most classes are dialogues between the professor and the class, rather than lectures by the professor. No student should feel intimidated to speak in class. It is not considered disrespectful to question the instructor. Professors welcome lively discussion if it is to the point; this is often the professor's way of making sure that the students are following the lectures and understanding the material properly. It is important, however, that students participate at an appropriate level. Domination of the discussion or failure to listen to the opinions of others is not looked upon favorably. Do not be afraid to admit that there are parts of the material you do not understand; if you do not understand, it is likely that others in the class share your confusion, and the resulting discussion will benefit everyone.
If you still have questions after the class discussion, or if you are really interested in the topic and want to explore it to a greater extent, you may visit your professor in his or her office. Professors have posted office hours specifically to welcome students who wish to discuss the course work or to receive extra help; many will agree to meet with students individually outside of these posted hours as well. They expect you to take advantage of these opportunities to talk with them. By approaching your professors when you have a problem or a question, you demonstrate your interest in the course and your seriousness about your academic responsibilities.
Every student is assigned an academic adviser. Advisers are members of the Earlham faculty who provide guidance; such as discussing academic goals and assisting in planning a class schedule that meets your interests and fulfills the requirements for graduation. You will have the opportunity to meet with your adviser during New Student Orientation. After choosing a major, you may wish to change your adviser to a faculty member with expertise in advising students in that area. This is common, and you shouldn't feel embarrassed to change your adviser as most advisers expect you to do so when you have chosen your major field. This is typically done after the first year of studies.
Courses in literature and the social sciences often require a great deal of reading. The Earlham Seminar sequence, which every degree-seeking Earlham student must complete in order to graduate, requires that students be able to read quickly and effectively and to demonstrate comprehension in frequent essays. Emphasis is on understanding and on synthesizing the material, not on memorizing details. Professors look for originality of thought and for the ability to analyze. For written work, emphasis is on developing good arguments, expressing them clearly and supporting them with reason and evidence.
Choose your courses carefully. The normal course load is 15 hours per semester, with a minimum of 12 hours per semester to maintain full-time status. If you are a degree-seeking student you must take an average of 15 hours per semester to graduate in a timely manner. During the first semester, a period of adjustment is normal for international students, so do not overload yourself. Students often balance their course load by taking one or two lighter courses, which do not require too much reading or written work, with more difficult courses.
Appropriate course selection requires a degree of self-awareness. Some of you may find Earlham courses challenging and professors' expectations high. Others of you will need to choose courses that will intentionally challenge you. You are encouraged to read course descriptions on-line and prepare a list of a few courses that interest you prior to meeting with your academic adviser.
Strategies for Succeeding
Group study and exchange of ideas is encouraged at Earlham. Get to know other students. You can benefit a great deal from discussions with classmates, and they can benefit from you.
All Earlham students are encouraged to seek help in the Academic Enrichment Center. You need not be doing poorly in order to receive the help of a tutor. Students often go to the Academic Enrichment Center to receive help in writing a paper, to do a class assignment, or to discuss a problem. Go to your professors, your academic adviser, or an International Student adviser if you have any difficulty. It is important to know that everyone here wants you to succeed.
We are confident of your ability to succeed and are excited about the perspectives that you bring to our classrooms and to our community. Students suggest that it takes about one semester to adjust and feel comfortable with the system. As a result, the first semester can be stressful as well as exciting. By giving you information about academics at Earlham in advance, we hope to prepare you to meet the challenges of adjustment so that you can make a smooth transition.
"…although Earlham encourages cooperative and collaborative, rather than competitive, modes of learning, one's work must still be one's own, unless explicitly assigned to a group." (Earlham College Student Handbook, p. 13) This is the basis for Earlham's policy on academic honesty. In the U.S., when students give or receive aid inappropriately (for example sharing information on a quiz or exam), or plagiarize by using another person's words or ideas without citing the source, they commit a serious offense. It is important for you to understand what comprises academic integrity in the U.S. and at Earlham and what constitutes a violation of it. You will be given further information on academic integrity during New Student Orientation. If you do not understand this concept fully, discuss the matter with your professor, your academic adviser, or an International Student adviser.