Counterpoint: Should Waterloo Engineering have a general first year?

Kai Huang - 2B Computer
Posted on: May 27, 2019

The fact that many other engineering
schools have a general first year before
branching off into specialty subjects
is a fact that astounds me. The main
arguments that can be found for the
general first year are that it allows all
students to be on the same page in terms
of academic skill, that it allows students
to understand exactly which discipline
they would prefer to specialize in, and
that it allows students to make a wide
range of friends. None of these reasons,
in my opinion, are significant enough to
justify the negatives.

I do agree that a general first
year can help in bringing everyone up
to speed, especially with how education
between schools is known to have such
incredible discrepancies. However, due
to this, many of the courses become
review material to a vast majority of
the students, and the question becomes
whether it is worth it to hold an entire
class back just to benefi t the select few.
I don’t believe it is. Further, if a student
is accepted to a University program
and chooses to go there, I believe it’s a
fundamental assumption that the student
feels that they are prepared to succeed.
It is not the University’s responsibility
to make up for anything the student
themselves lacks.

As far as understanding disciplines
go, I disagree that any of the generalized
first year courses do a very good job of
portraying what further study in that field
truly entails. Take McMaster University,
for example; the only first-year courses
they offer that feed into a specialty are
the two chemistry courses, the materials
course, and the computation course.
While it is possible that a student may
realize how much they love chemical
engineering after first year, it’s much
more likely that they just enjoyed the
structure of the course or enjoyed the
Professor behind it. At Waterloo, even
with a specialized first year, most people
only really realize they want to change
specialties during second year, where
courses take on more depth. Finally, it’s
also worth noting again that a general
first year for this reason holds back all
of us that went to University with a clear
idea of where our passion lies.

As far as making a wide range of
friends goes, I don’t think this has any
particular bearing. Having classes shared
with every other engineering student
means that many of your friends in first
year might just drift away later on, and
besides, it’s a lot easier to make friends
if you join a club. Regardless, I think
this is a moot point and honestly doesn’t
deserve much bearing.

My point after all this is honestly pretty
straightforward. Most of the purpose of
general first year involves sacrifi cing the
needs of the many for the needs of the few.
While those that enter without suffi cient
background or those that enter without
knowing a direction may benefit, the vast
majority will be forced to suffer through
boring classes discussing subjects they’re
disinterested in. Perhaps their marks
will even suffer, causing them to be at a
disadvantage in the end. Students would
be substantially less employable after
the first year, simply because they don’t
know anything in their field.

High school is provided to everyone
as a basic right, allowing them to have
enough fundamental knowledge on
various topics to choose their own path in
life. University is a privilege and a task
that students take upon themselves. They
should not have to be hand held through
school, and the University should not
sacrifice the education of everyone else
just to assist a select few.

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