The Academic Contract System

From the time you arrive at New College, you are deeply and directly involved in shaping your academic program. At orientation you meet a faculty member who serves as your orientation advisor, discusses with you your interests and goals, and the opportunities you have to explore them. In mini-classes just prior to the start of the term, professors give brief presentations of their offerings for the coming semester. With this information in mind, you are ready to draft your first academic contract.

"Contract" sounds formidable, implying legalisms and experience at negotiation, but nothing of the kind is intended. The academic contract is a registration system encouraging you to select and develop educational activities--courses, tutorials, independent reading, labs, studios, apprenticeships, and so on--tailored to the goals you specify. It makes explicit the responsibilities you are undertaking, and by doing so, helps you both evaluate yourself and interpret your professors' evaluations of your work.

Your faculty advisor and other faculty you meet will help you decide what to include in your contract, with an eye to the educational goals you've set. The faculty member you select to sign your contract becomes your contract sponsor and advisor for the semester. Each semester, your studies at New College will be articulated in a contract undertaken in consultation with a sponsor. Over the course of your career, you may have several different sponsors, reflecting the varying interests and activities that the contracts embody.

In your first semester, your contract is likely to contain several courses--not all of them necessarily introductory--and possibly laboratory work in the sciences. Later, as you become aware of the resources of the faculty in your areas of interest, you can expect to propose tutorials, special projects, and off-campus activities to supplement faculty course offerings. The academic contract and consultation with faculty challenge you to design the kind of education that best serves your goals.

Throughout your first semester you have the opportunity to consult with your sponsor concerning your progress, tapping his or her wisdom as a scholar and teacher to help you resolve problems and interpret new experiences. When you complete the courses and other activities specified in your contract, the professors write narrative evaluations of your performance, instead of the letter or number grades with which you probably are familiar.

At the end of the semester, your sponsor will certify how well your contract has been fulfilled. The sponsor's contract certification and the various evaluations from your professors help you discover areas of academic strength and interest, along with areas of difficulty you will need to address. Evaluations and the contract certification become foundations for subsequent contract planning.



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