Many bright-eyed high school seniors spend months preparing for the next phase of their lives, and for many that next phase is college. Hundreds of these students come to UMBC every year, thinking that this institution is going to allow them to become who they want to be. When they get here, some feel that UMBC is all that they expected and more, while others feel cheated by the experience and question whether this way station on the path to their future self was the right choice.
It can be difficult to know whether UMBC is doing better than any other college would at facilitating our growth as people. The retention rate for the first two years of college is more than 70 percent on average at UMBC, so it is clear that many students do believe for a while that they made the right choice in coming to this school.
However, the remaining percentage of the student body makes up around a quarter of the people who choose UMBC. The fact that this portion of students decide to transfer or drop out demonstrates how not everyone is enamored by this school. The limits of the major programs here are one reason people decide that UMBC may not be the school for them.
For example, students who want to focus on writing do not have the option of a specific writing major. Those who want to develop their creative writing, journalism, professional writing or rhetoric and communication skills only have the option of choosing a minor or an English major, with extra requirements that do not necessarily refine the specific skills they would want. This is just one example of the fact that many students are interested in focusing on specific subjects, and the major and minor offerings at the university may not be sufficiently tailored to those interests.
Despite these qualms, members of the administration are adamant about the value of the general skills that students are meant to gain during their time at UMBC. The university affords students with opportunities to expand their minds and cultivate something from their potential, but students must take initiative in order to use them.
“I think UMBC really changed how I present myself, and through interactions with everyone around me (both good and not so good) changed who I am fundamentally,” said Andrew Potvin, a music technology major who graduated in the spring of 2018. “I also learned how to manage my time better, although I think that was due to commuting the last 3 years at UMBC.”
Potvin also said that he could not have imagined graduating from any other school, and that he learned everything he knows about his field from the classes he took. Such a glowing endorsement does highlight hope for UMBC as a home for people trying to improve their lives and advance on their educational journey.
Not everyone will leave UMBC feeling that the school has molded them into a better person than the one they were when they enrolled, but many do find value here through the experiences they have. In the classroom, with friends in the dorms, and in the communities of student organizations, people’s lives are undeniably changed here everyday. In the end, it seems that the experience here largely depends upon what a student makes of it.