Academic Overview

The academic year at New College consists of two fourteen-week semesters and a four-week January Interterm devoted to independent study. Each semester is divided into two seven-week modules, with a one-week recess between them. Faculty offer both semester-long and module (seven weeks long) courses, with professors choosing the format best suited to the subject matter.

The New College academic program aims to encourage academic excellence, creativity, and personal initiative, and, in a context of collegiate residential life, to provide essential tools for life-long intellectual growth. To accomplish these ambitious objectives, New College has evolved a curriculum that differs from those at most colleges and, we believe, contributes to New College's special intellectual intensity.

Academic contracts encourage students to establish, pursue, and measure progress towards self-established goals; seminars foster interchange with students and professors; independent study projects stimulate self-directed education; and the senior thesis, culmination of the New College career, allows the student to achieve and demonstrate mastery of a topic or medium of choice. Throughout the New College experience, oral and written expressions are refined in close contact with faculty. Students can access a set of virtual tools to assist in writing or they can work with a writing specialist to improve their skills.

How does the program actually work? Upon arrival at New College, students are deeply and directly involved in shaping their academic programs. At orientation and throughout the New College career, students interact with faculty members who discuss with with students their interests and goals, and the opportunities available to explore them. Students and faculty construct contracts for each term. A New College academic contract is a registration system encouraging students to select and develop educational activities--courses, tutorials, independent reading, labs, studios, apprenticeships, and so on--tailored to the goals the student specifies. As students become aware of the resources of faculty in areas of special interest, students propose tutorials, special projects, and off-campus activities to supplement faculty course offerings. Some students choose "alternative contracts" that focus on goals with narratives describing how the selected educational activities will help to attain them. Others choose a more "traditional"listing of educational activities that the student will undertake during the term.

The faculty member who signs the contract becomes the contract sponsor and the advisor for the semester. Over the course of a student's career, she or he may have several different sponsors, reflecting the varying interests and activities that the contracts embody.

At the end of the semester, the sponsor will determine how well the contract has been fulfilled. The sponsor's contract certification and the various evaluations from professors help students discover areas of academic strength and interest, along with areas of difficulty that will need to be addressed. Evaluations and the contract certification become foundations for subsequent contract planning. Thus it is vital that an open dialogue exist between students and their faculty sponsors.

After fall semester students enter the January Interterm. Toward the end of fall semester, the faculty sponsor and the student outline the project to be pursued during Interterm. One purpose of this project is to allow students to devise, structure, and carry to completion an intensive study on their own. Alternatively, students can use Interterm for a group project or special course that requires a block of time free from competing activities (for example, . production of a play or instruction in electron microscopy). Faculty remain in residence during Interterm to assist in carrying out projects and also for consultation on future activities. Interterm is one month long. Projects are submitted for evaluation at the end of the month. Students complete three independent study projects before graduation.
Research education is an important component of the New College education. From beginning classes, students are taught to use to tools of a scholar. Computer literacy and understanding of library resources are crucial. Critical thinking skills are emphasized from introductory work through advanced study. Skills in the field and the laboratory are strengthened throughout a student's tenure. It is not uncommon for students to attend national meetings with faculty mentors, sometimes presenting work jointly with faculty or independently.

In the second and third years students may begin to focus on a particular field or combination of fields that will lead to an area of concentration. Students concentrate in an academic discipline or interdisciplinary area, following guidelines found under the appropriate listing in the General Catalog. Students may also work with faculty to formulate guidelines for a special concentration. Either way, the selection of a concentration provides the basis for a senior thesis.

Students have prepared for the thesis through appropriate courses and tutorials, and perhaps with study abroad or an internship. The three independent study projects provide experience in formulating a problem and carrying the project through to completion. At least three faculty members are selected as a baccalaureate committee, one of the three being the thesis sponsor. Students work closely with their thesis sponsor, and consult with the committee in completing the project. The thesis sponsor is a guide and mentor throughout the final project to help students understand the thesis process as well as to accomplish the thesis product. Once the thesis sponsor approves the final document, the senior thesis is bound and placed in the Jane Cook Library.

The senior thesis provides the basis for baccalaureate examination, an oral exam that helps the committee to evaluate performance with the thesis material, in the area of concentration, and in the overall education.