UGS courses must be standardized

Zayam Tariq , Columnist

Before freshman registration started, the class I was most excited about signing up for was my Undergraduate Studies Signature Course. The “UGS” promised to teach me about something completely new with a professor who was specifically chosen for their passion about the topic. It sounded like the perfect way to get excited about a college level topic that I had no experience with. 

Cue my disappointment when I realized that a large majority of UGS courses aren’t practical to take if you’re worried about your GPA. While some Signature Courses had only three to four assignments per semester, others had weekly quizzes, weekly readings and research papers. 

For a student trying to get into a graduate program or attempting an internal transfer to a competitive school, taking these courses is a surefire way to minimize their chances. UT offers a vast amount of UGS topics — nearly 220 courses in total —  but students often have to avoid what genuinely interests them in hopes of maintaining a high GPA. The School of Undergraduate Studies needs to standardize the difficulty of their signature courses so students do not need to make that compromise. 

“Honestly, I fell along the same path as other students,” said aerospace engineering sophomore Aaron Pandian. “I ended up taking an easy class because I wanted to be in and out. I searched up the grades on (Catalyst) and looked for whatever I could find that had the best grade distribution.” 

Many students, like Pandian, are very familiar with resources like Catalyst and  RateMyProfessor, which allow students to report grade distributions and general opinions regarding a professor’s class. A common metric that determines how well a UGS is rated is what type and quantity of graded assignments are involved. 

This rating isn’t a byproduct of the student body’s “laziness,” but rather a mutual understanding that most quality learning does not happen through forced busywork. If a Signature Course introduces students to a whole new world of thinking, associating deadlines and exams with that world only serves to undermine it. 

Some level of difficulty is necessary, of course. A class with no assignments is just as unengaged as one that’s brimming with work. There needs to be a balance that is struck, a standard that all UGS courses must meet but not surpass. 

Patricia Micks, assistant dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, explained the intended function of UGS courses. 

“The Signature Courses are designed to help students learn how to learn,” Micks said in an email. “(Students) show that they have learned important college level skills such as critical thinking, writing, public speaking and so on.” 

However, when your schedule is booked with multiple quizzes per week, research assignments and numerous analysis papers — all within the first semester of college — then instead of learning how to learn, you’re learning how to be a work machine. 

Micks also said that the majority of students, when surveyed, were “very pleased” with their UGS courses, which makes sense. The popular signature courses, like “Gameplan for Winning at Life” and “Cultural Intelligence in the Age of Trump,” that fill up instantly meet the balance of engaging discussions with minimal, yet thought-provoking, assignments. 

It’s just a shame that so many other UGS courses, which have the potential to be just as fun and interesting, are thrown to the sidelines because they may not be practical for a student’s busy schedule.

A student who genuinely wants to learn about stories from the Muslim west or the production of Italian dramas should not have to settle for an easier class simply because they are worried about how their GPA will be affected. 

Tariq is an electrical and computer engineering sophomore from Allen, Texas.