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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Are midyears at a disadvantage?

Published: February 7, 2014
Section: Opinions

As many of us are finally settling into our daily routines for the spring semester, midyear students are just finally adjusting to a whole new experience. Thrown into a new school in a new place with new friends in the middle of the year, these midyears are at a significant disadvantage compared to other first-years, and though it is financially advantageous for the university, it simply is not fair for these students who end up feeling like the extras.

Administration does not share its criteria for accepting students as midyears, but there is a general consensus on campus for what they are. Even though orientation leaders will say otherwise, the truth is, they feel as if they are rejects. The assumption by some students on campus is that midyears went wrong in some way, shape or form in high school and that they earned lower grades or participated in fewer extracurricular activities. That is certainly not true, but it is definitely the general stereotype of midyears and is also shared by midyears. Moreover, when administration tries to affirm that midyears are somehow promoted and special, this only makes them seem like they are covering up a big lie.

Academically, midyears are at a terrible disadvantage if they want to major in one of the sciences. Science courses last an entire year, so by starting in January and graduating four years later in December, midyears essentially lose 2 semesters. They cannot take a full year course starting in the middle, so for most, General Chemistry begins their second semester, not their first. While science majors already have to take many classes and labs, midyears have to fit all of these requirements into three years. This unfairly ruins the amount of freedom they have to play with their schedule as other first-years do. Midyears don’t have the same luxury as first-years, who have more freedom to take classes they simply have an interest in.

This isn’t even the only issue, though, as midyears are just as disadvantaged socially as they are academically. By January, everyone has already formed their friend groups, and it is very hard to break into a clique. Midyears often end up only making friends with other midyears, not simply because they want to, but because they do not have any other choice. By joining athletics or becoming involved in the Jewish community, especially the Orthodox community, it can be easier to make friends because these tight-knit groups tend to spend a lot of time together and provide newcomers with a pre-formed set of welcoming friends. If the average midyear is not particularly interested in joining a club like this, they will end up without the same benefit as first-years. Midyears are also disadvantaged in terms of competitive clubs. A capella, dance groups and comedy troupes have few, if any, seniors graduate in December, so they have fewer spots open for those who try out in the middle of the year. Granted many non-midyears also try out for competitive groups in January, but for midyears, this is their first chance.

Brandeis accepts students to enter as midyears because so many more students study abroad in the spring than in the fall, thereby creating empty rooms in the Village. Financially, it makes perfect sense for the university because they do not want to lose money on empty rooms. However, if they solve the actual problem, they would not have to put midyears through the trouble of starting in the middle of the school year. Many students want to study in the spring simply because it’s the thing to do. If all of one’s friends are studying abroad in the spring, that student is not going to want to do differently and spend a whole semester alone while they see Facebook posts of their friends’ adventures through Europe.

If Brandeis offered incentives to study abroad in the fall and publicized this option more, eventually the number of students studying abroad for each semester would even out, thus swapping rooms would even out as well. This would eliminate the need for midyears to come in and fill them. The university acceptance rate is already quite high, so it does not need to accept more students but rather be smarter about where to house the students it does have. Ultimately, midyears do not deserve to feel ostracized and have to crazily shift around their schedules. For a university built around social justice, we need to be careful not to intentionally or unintentionally exclude members of our own community.