UMD’s Many Programs Divide Rather than Unify Students

by Alex Braun ‘23

Most college acceptance letters are very similar. They start out by congratulating you on being offered admission to the university, detail how you stood out among the tens of thousands of applications they received this year, and try to list some of their school’s opportunities to “sell” you on accepting their offer of admission. If you are lucky, you may get invited to their Honors College program. However, the University of Maryland at College Park (UMD) takes accepting students into honors a step further and creates 3 different honors-resembling programs. This unique practice, although well-intentioned, is unnecessary and over complicates the process of admitting students.

For many students who have been admitted, their acceptance letter invites them to enroll in 1 of 3 university-wide programs: Carillon Communities, College Park Scholars, and the Honors College. All of them are Living Learning Programs (LLPs), all of them range from 1 to 2 years, all of them have students look at “the big questions of the world,” and all of them have a focus on interdisciplinary studies. While there are some differences like where members of each program live and the specialty classes that students may take, these programs seem to all have the same elements and goals. All of them have between 8-12 distinct programs within the LLP. In total, there are about 31 different programs between the 3 main LLPs. Confusing, isn’t it?

While the intention of these LLPs, and the subdivisions of programs within them is to make a big college seem small and allow students to easily meet people and form relationships with students in their same program, it seems equally possible that it divides students. Two of the most common ways new college students make friends is by meeting people in their dorms and meeting people in their classes. However, in many of these programs, those two groups are the same.

While certain programs like University Honors and certain programs under Scholars have nicer and newer dorms, the residence halls for the programs are usually smaller than the dorms that regular students live in and can cut down social interaction because students enrolled in these programs are exposed to a smaller variety of students. Especially during freshman year, it is desirable for students to meet as many people as they can, not just people they share interests with. Although LLPs provide extra opportunities for every student enrolled in them, the programs may not be for everyone. For some students, the cons to being in an LLP outweigh the pros, and as a result they choose to decline the invitation they receive in their acceptance letter.

Being a public state school, a lot of in-state students go into their freshman year already knowing some of their peers and may want to live with them. However, if a student is in a different program than their friend, it is next to impossible to dorm with them. A system that has the purpose of uniting students with similar interests seems to also hinder the opportunities to embrace and experience the overall diversity that UMD offers.