The College of Social Studies (CSS) recently implemented changes to the sophomore year tutorial, effective this semester. In May, professors agreed to shorten CSS tutorials in history, economics, and government from nine weeks to eight weeks. In addition, the amount of reading for the three tutorials will now be uniform in length.

“These changes have been under consideration for some time,” said Professor Cecilia Miller, co-Chair of CSS. “The changes were not extensive, and the goal of the changes was not to lower the level of difficulty of CSS.”

According to Miller, the changes allow for a two-week break in early April, giving students time to prepare more thoroughly for their Comprehensive Exams at the end of the month. These changes also give sophomore tutors the opportunity to become more involved in the students’ review process for the Comprehensive Exams, which are composed of both written and oral examinations.

CSS students will now have the added benefit of starting and finishing each semester at the same time as all other University students; the previous system operated under an extended academic calendar.

The CSS major is often regarded as one of the more difficult majors at the University. The intensity of the major has attracted dedicated students, as well as produced exemplary graduates who have received approximately 25 percent of the awards given to seniors at graduation.

CSS major Timothy Green ’11 is a veteran of the United States Army. Green served with the 101st Airborne Division as a paratrooper and fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2004.

“CSS, like the military, appealed to me because it provides those associated with it the opportunity to push themselves further than most of their peers are willing; where the military was physically tough, CSS is intellectually tough,” Green said.

The sophomore year is often regarded as the most demanding of all three years of the major. The length of readings for this year range from 400 to 1,200 pages per week, and students are required to write a five-page paper every week, along with the occasional two to three page paper.

“Initially, the sheer volume of information that you are asked to process can seem daunting, but the key is to find a system of balance that works for you,” said Andrew Essington ’12. “To understand the sophomore year, it helps to think of it as immersion in a new way of critical thinking.”

Essington suggested that the changes to the sophomore year have in some ways made the major even more, or at least as, demanding as last year.

“It remains an extremely demanding major… though many rumors are circulating about this year being substantially less difficult than the last,” Essington said. “For example, last year the history tutorial was a week longer, but this year, our unit on the Industrial Revolution encompassed two weeks’ worth of material, which leads me to believe the above rumors are unfounded.”

Isabella Litke ’12 believes that the difficulty of CSS is not correlated with the length of the readings.

“The intensity or credibility of a major can’t be measured by the number of pages of reading students are assigned,” Litke said. “I’m not sure the changes were implemented to make things easier so much as they were implemented to allow students to absorb and engage more thoroughly with the material.”

Each year, CSS admits approximately 30 students who apply to the major during the spring semester of their freshmen year. According to Miller, approximately five students drop the major by the end of the first semester, and approximately 25 students graduate from CSS each year.

“The figures have remained consistent for the past 20 years…we recognize this pattern and we help outgoing students find appropriate outside classes and faculty advisers,” Miller said.

The College will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary during this year’s Homecoming Weekend. Given the College’s young existence, modifications to the curriculum should come as no surprise. According to Miller, the CSS curriculum has been revised several times throughout the decades.

“CSS will continue to fine-tune the major whenever it seems appropriate,” Miller said. “This flexibility allows a major with almost all required classes to continue to prepare its students very well.”

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  • Simon Au ’07

    CSS was the best time of my life (or perhaps, of my youth).