This is Part III of my Student Issue Essay Analysis series. I’ll be posting a prompt our Premium students have responded to over at the Magoosh product (under real exam conditions) and giving my analysis of the essay. If you want, have a look at the prompt first and try your hand at the essay, and see how yours stacks up.
Check out my past commentary:
Universities should require students to take courses only within those fields they are interested in studying.
Write a response in which you discuss your views on the policy and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy and explain how these consequences shape your position.
Some people believe that universities should put stringent policies in place that require students to take courses only within a chosen field of study, thus harshly limiting the breadth of knowledge that they are able to study. Concentrating on only one field is important in terms of developing expert knowledge and specialization, but it is also crucial that the student hone a well rounded knowledge of the nature of the world so that their field of specialization is accented with courses from outside disciplines as well. It is for this reason that I believe that students should focus their study on a specific field yet also be allowed and encouraged to accent and expand their specialized knowledge by sampling courses from other areas of specialty as well.
Our current globalizing world contains diversity of knowledge, culture and creed that is increasing at a rapid pace and in order to succeed in a world such as this, it is necessary to hone a diverse skill set of knowledge and expertise. Therefore, university policies should encourage students to accent their study of a specific discipline with outside courses that will enhance the breadth of their knowledge about the nature of the world. A student studying medicine, for example, clearly needs to focus the majority of their time on understanding the inner workings of the human body on a scientific level. However, it is also crucial for them to have a more general knowledge of the way in which humans function on an individual or cultural scale (i.e. psychology and anthropology), because effective doctors are not simply capable of diagnosing diseases, but can also interact effectively, with individual and cultural sensitivies, with their patients in order to provide the most well-rounded care. A mathematician who knows only about math and knows nothing about the ancient civilizations whose cultures discovered geography will be ill-suited to make math interesting to his future students or to understand the real world implications of the equations he slaves over daily. A one-dimensional course of study will only serve to foster bias and an uncritical approach to life in such students. Thus, because we live in a world that is multi-faceted, it is important for every specialist to learn a bit about specialities outside of their main discipline in order to augment their understanding of the world at large.
When universities provide a structure of encouragement for their students to augment their specified studies by selecting some courses from outside their discipline, there are some possible consequences, such as the potential for students to change their mind about what they want to focus on. Some may say this is an inefficient use of time and that it will confuse students. However, I would argue that it will foster a wider breadth of knowledge that is ultimately beneficial for any student; a student that started studying biology but then switched to psychology, for example, will always appreciate and pay heed to the importance of our life sciences and will not neglect to consider how the functions of the body may affect someone’s mental health. The existence of knowledge in a wider range of disciplines will only provide the student with more information with which to take charge in a world that is highly complex and rapidly changing all the time, and so allowing them to experiment a little and change their mind once or twice is to their benefit rather than to their detriment.
In conclusion, I disagree that universities should require students to take courses only within their specific, chosen field of study. When students are able to focus their study on one specific topic but then augment it by sampling courses from other disciplines, their knowledge becomes more wide ranging and interdisciplinary, thus providing a better foundation for them to succeed in a rapidly globalizing world. While they may change their minds as to their preferred topic of study one or two times, they will ultimately succeed by having a wide breadth of knowledge that will teach them to approach the world without a subject specific bias. Overall, it is best that universities allow their students to take courses outside of their chosen course of study in order to diversify their pallate of knowledge.
This essay starts off with a strong intro that clearly articulates the author’s position.
The essay is also very long, and the body paragraphs well developed. In terms of ideas this is a strong—though if slightly limited—essay. It makes a compelling case for interdisciplinary learning. A physician studying anthropology will be more culturally sensitive; a psychologist who studied biology will have a great appreciation for the biological underpinnings of the psyche. The writer justifies this well-roundedness in terms of relevancy: a one-dimensional person will struggle in our complex, globalized world.
As well thought out and supported as these points, they are far too similar, and this essay would have benefited from picking another example that argues in favor of allowing students to take courses outside of their majors. Another flaw is the essay doesn’t directly addresses the directions: “should consider the possible consequences of implementing the policy.” Is a world of well-rounded, complex individuals the consequence of allowing students to choose subjects outside of their majors?
Stylistically this essay is not perfect, and I have some minor grumblings.
I like the first use of “accent” but after the third time the use of the word is not nearly as fresh. In this case, other words could do: supplement, etc. Some of the sentences are heavy-handed and overloaded with clauses (“When universities provide a structure of encouragement for their students to augment their specified studies by selecting some courses from outside their discipline, there are some possible consequences, such as the potential for students to change their mind about what they want to focus on”). Other examples of where too many nouns compromise the effectiveness of writing is the first sentence of the body paragraph (can “creed” “increase at a rapid pace”).
All in all, this essay is a strong essay but the narrow scope and the overly oblique focus on the directions prevents it from getting a ‘6.’
A note about essay grading
While I’d love to grade everyone’s practice essays, that’s just simply not possible. Unfortunately I won’t be able to grade new essays, as students’ essays have already been chosen in advance. Instead, if you’re wondering how to get feedback on getting your practice AWA essays graded, check out this page:
How to Get Your AWA Practice Essays Graded?
If you have any questions about my analysis, let me know in the comments below!
Most Popular Resources
As part of the Master of Mathematics / Master of Advanced Study, candidates may choose to offer an essay. This will count for 3 units, or about a sixth of the course. There is no prescribed length for an essay, but the general opinion seems to be that 5,000 to 8,000 words is a natural length. The essay does not have to be original in content.
Each year members of the Faculty propose suitable topics; links to those for the most recent submissions are provided below (subsequent years are expected to be broadly similar, although not identical). Students are also free to propose their own topic (subject to confirmation by the Faculty Board of Mathematics). Note that if an essay is written on a particular topic in a given year then that exact topic can not be set in the next year.
A list of extra topics is generally offered during Lent Term, on the same basis and terms as the any on the initial list (listed as "Additional Essay Topics").
The primary requirement on the presentation of Part III essays is that they are legible. Hand-written essays are acceptable (if legible), but you may prefer to use the text formatting software which is available on the University PWF network.