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Beyond Tufts: Students pursue course options at other Boston−area schools

Published: Friday, November 2, 2012

Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 08:11

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Tufts students can cross-register for classes at Boston College, Boston University and Brandeis University.


With registration just around the corner, students find themselves sifting through the lengthy course listing to create a schedule that best fits their interests. Despite Tufts’ many departments and interdisciplinary programs, some students find deficiencies in the course options here and choose to cross−register in classes at other universities to fill the void.

Tufts allows for cross−registration at three schools within the Boston Consortium — Boston College (BC), Boston University (BU) and Brandeis University — as well as the New England Conservatory of Music. Students also have the opportunity to enroll in courses at Tufts’ graduate schools, including the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the Friedman School of Nutrition and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

Senior Alexa Stevens is enrolled in a course in Farsi at Boston University, for example.

“Farsi isn’t offered at Tufts,” she said. “Even though Tufts itself doesn’t have every single resource that every single student would want, we’re close enough and we have enough access to other resources. It’s really nice that we’re surrounded by so many different academic institutions.”

According to Stevens, taking a course at another university is a significant time commitment.

“I go four times a week — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday,” she said. “In all, it’s a three−hour experience [each time].”

Because Tufts’ tuition covers the cost of taking a course at another school within the Boston Consortium, Stevens did not have to pay any extra for her Farsi course. Despite this convenience, taking courses at other universities can pose logistical challenges.

“The only really hard thing is transportation,” Stevens said. “It has to be something you really want to do. If not, it’s really out of your way.”

Stevens expressed that studying at a different school after three years at Tufts is refreshing, even if it’s only for a single course each semester.

“It’s nice to get off the Tufts campus,” she said. “It’s nice to get into a more urban environment.”

Students may take courses outside of Tufts for reasons other than personal interest. The Harvard Extension School offers continuing education courses both on campus and online, and Tufts students will often choose to take courses like organic chemistry there because it is allegedly easier than at Tufts, Stevens said.

“I have heard that those classes are far easier,” Stevens said. “Tufts is one of the hardest pre−med schools to be at [so] kids do often go to Harvard ... for orgo b.”

Tuition, though, remains a determining factor.

“A lot of people do that over the summer,” Stevens said, “They’re taught by the Extension School, so you don’t have to apply to be a Harvard student.”

Tufts also offers five−year bachelor dual degree programs at the School of Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) and the New England Conservatory (NEC). These two programs offer the opportunity to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Sciences from Tufts, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Music. Students in the dual degree program split their curricula between two schools, taking heavy course loads each semester and commuting back and forth almost daily.

“You get here, and it’s so much more than you realize. I [take] seven classes right now,” junior William Russack, who is in his third year as a SMFA dual degree student, said.

The considerable course requirements and the difficulty in commuting have led to a low retention rate in the dual degree program, with many students dropping the SMFA degree and studying only at Tufts. Russack cited several reasons as to why there has been a decrease in his SMFA dual degree class size.

“There [were] only thirteen of us [and] two of them have already dropped out,” Russack said, “Paying [for] a fifth year is a financial issue. The other issue is credits. People just can’t finish it.”

The dual degree program is challenging, mentally and socially, requiring a certain drive to complete the program, according to Russack.

“If you slip up, you’re not going to finish,” he said.

Natasha Jessen−Petersen, who is in her fifth year of the dual degree program at the SMFA, discussed her motivation for completing it.

“I was passionate [enough] about my art to actually want to commit and dedicate myself to it,” she said. “I was able to motivate myself to be there twice a week, to do the commute.”

Jessen−Petersen also experienced a high rate of withdrawal from her dual degree class, with less than half staying in the program through their fifth year. According to Jessen−Petersen, of the 16 who began in the program, only seven have remained.

Many students experience difficulty in finding guidance in navigating their dual degree, which could contribute to the low retention rate.

“I think that’s the reason a lot of people drop out,” Jessen−Petersen said, “They feel that they didn’t get the assistance they needed to properly fulfill the two majors.”

Despite the difficulty in completing the dual degree program, both Russack and Jessen−Petersen expressed pride in what they’re doing.

“This education is to teach me how to think more creatively and approach problems differently,” Russack said. “I hope that in these five years, I have something unique.”

While the dual degree program is very different from simply taking a course outside of Tufts, it still presents the same challenges — the commute, different priorities and the disconnect experienced by studying at a school other than Tufts.

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