Currently, only three departments offer both a concentration and a certificate program: East Asian Studies, Near Eastern Studies and the Wilson School. Most certificate programs serve to narrow a student’s focus within a field rather than allowing students to study extensively in a secondary field. For example, many students concentrating in economics complete a certificate in finance, while many students concentrating in politics complete one in political economy. Though these certificates complement the major area of study, they do not allow students to explore another area of interest.
Many Princetonians come to the University with multiple academic interests. But by junior year they have chosen their fields and ultimately must focus on departmental requirements. Independent work is cited as a major reason that students must choose one field. The argument is that in order to be able to complete extensive, thoughtful research, students must work within a single concentration and perhaps one or two closely related certificates. Indeed, this is a reason that students must choose one concentration, but it need not rule out certificates in major departments. For example, a politics major interested in voter psychology could complete a certificate in the psychology department, thus pursuing two major areas of interest. This would not hinder his or her ability to complete thoughtful independent work but rather strengthen it. A molecular biology major interested in biochemistry could pursue a stronger background in chemistry; a music major studying a particular period could supplement his or her studies with additional historical context by completing a history certificate.
While students have the option of taking a wide range of classes, they should be recognized with a certificate of proficiency if they have taken a number of courses in a given field because these courses meaningfully contribute to their Princeton education. This would allow students to show potential graduate schools and employers that they have pursued multiple interests and have experience in various areas of study.
Some may argue that certificates are problematic because they cannot guarantee the level of expertise in a field that is suggested by a Princeton degree. However, this concern is without cause because a certificate is not viewed to be the same as a concentration. Those with a certificate in an area of study will not — and cannot — be expected to have the same deep knowledge that a concentrator has. Furthermore, each department would be able to set its own standards for its certificate program in order to ensure that each student in the program has adequate knowledge of important concepts in the discipline. Because the benefits to Princeton students far outweigh the possible harm, Princeton should seriously consider expanding the certificate program to include certificates in major areas of study.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/15/31499/