Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Liberal arts education valuable for pre-professional students

Most larger universities, such as the University of Washington, have moved toward the trend of offering pre-professional majors, but Whitman is just one of the many liberal arts colleges across the nation that have remained committed to not bringing pre-professional majors to their campuses.

Pre-professional majors are fields of studies where students will take a distribution of classes focused on preparing them to attend law school, medical school or other professional graduate education.

According to the Whitman College website, “Whitman does not have and does not recommend a formal pre-law major as preparation for law school, believing that no specific series of courses can be considered correct for every student who intends to enter the legal profession.”

Whitman’s pre-law advisor, Professor of Philosophy Patrick Frierson, is responsible for counseling prospective students, juniors and seniors about what steps to take in order to prepare for graduate school. Frierson believes that, contrary to popular opinion, a pre-professional major is rarely the best option for an aspiring doctor or lawyer.

“It makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of a university, where it’s effective in getting students to come,” Frierson said. “A lot of prospective students don’t have a good understanding of what it takes to get into law school. If they see a school with a pre-law track versus a liberal arts college, they assume that the school with the pre-law track is better equipping students for law school, when in fact it’s not.”

Frierson also denies the “widespread misconception” that certain majors, such as politics and economics, are better fields of study for students planning on law school.

“It’s not atypical for a lawyer to have to know how a big rig truck gets constructed one month, and then be able to understand complex organic molecules for a patent lawsuit the next month,” he said. “You could be [a] studio art or anthropology [major], and that’s perfect for law school.”

Whitman’s own course catalog also highlights the value of a liberal arts education for pre-med students, stating: “Clinicians must have the ability to communicate by speaking and writing effectively, to gather and analyze data, to continually update knowledge and skills, to work with a team of professionals, and to apply new information to the solution of scientific, clinical, and public health problems: all skills that can be acquired from a liberal arts education.”

Sophomore John Lee, a biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology (BBMB) major who plans to attend medical school after graduation, explained several ways that Whitman has helped him prepare for his goal.

“Rather than having a [pre-med] major, it’s just an abstract set of prerequisites,” Lee said. “Basically, if I want to apply to most grad schools, I need to take some particular classes that Whitman offers.”

Whitman graduate John Loranger, who currently works as an admissions officer for the college, plans to attend law school in the future. Loranger credits his decision not to leap right into graduate school to the advice and experiences he received at Whitman.

“Every alum that I know in graduate school has advised me, and most of my friends, to take time, work, and clear your head, and make sure to take the next step with the conviction that it’s absolutely what you want to do,” he said.

Loranger was accepted to the Honors College at the University of Texas (UT) as an undergraduate, but decided to attend Whitman instead because of its smaller atmosphere and the close relationships he would form with his professors.

“A liberal arts skill set gives a balance of problem-solving and written and oral communication skills that are going to be the best preparation for whatever you decide to do,” he said. “Not that I wouldn’t have gotten that at UT, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it in such a tight-knit community.”

Lee also affirms the value of a liberal arts education to a student beginning a career in medicine.

“I’ve heard of people majoring in something else, either non-science, non-bio, or non pre-med and being rather successful, sometimes more successful than bio majors: only because it’s unique to have someone on a pre-med track who is also a history or philosophy major,” Lee said.

Lee hopes his experience at Whitman has prepared him as a “well-rounded” student.

“I believe my Encounters professor helped me immensely with my academic writing. The [Medical College Admission Test]  have  a verbal reasoning section where you have to write an essay,” Lee said.

Frierson noted that a liberal arts education encourages students to pursue a passion, leading them to pursue careers that will be their best fit.

“Typically 80 to 90 percent of students end up getting into law school. Better students at Whitman go to the very best law schools in the country,” he said. “I’ve never talked to anyone who’s regretted a liberal arts education.”

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