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January 10, 2002 Independent students test the academic waters



by John Austen

How does a high school dropout end up excelling at Concordia University?

In the case of Paul Braganza, it was a matter of “testing the waters” as an independent student in 1993. After a lot of hard work and much support from his professors, he eventually got into a history program in 1999 and graduated with honours in 2000.

“I needed to learn something about myself,” said Braganza, 28. “Obviously, I couldn’t enroll as a full-time student because I never finished high school. I was very nervous enrolling as an independent student. I had really bad work habits and couldn’t write very well. I’m a late learner, I guess.

“There was one professor who really took me under her wing and helped me realize I could learn and flourish at university. I’m eternally grateful for that.”

The classification of independent students has existed since the beginnings of Concordia University more than 25 years ago. Before that, Loyola College referred to this group as “special students‚” while Sir George Williams University at one time called them “partial course students.”

Defined as those not proceeding to a degree or certificate, independent students register for individual courses, normally on a part-time basis. Typical students may be interested in taking courses to test things out prior to becoming an undergraduate.

The maximum allowable course load for independent students is 12 credits during the summer session and 18 credits in the fall/winter sessions, equally divided between the two terms. For students registered for only one term, the maximum is nine credits.

There has been a steady increase in the number of independent students registered at Concordia since 1997. There were 917 students enrolled last summer, compared to 587 in the summer of 1997, an increase of 56 per cent. This past fall session had 2,308 students registered compared to 1,498 four years ago, a 54-per-cent increase.

“There are numerous reasons given for becoming an independent student,” said Teresa Zuccaro, enrolment officer, Office of the Registrar. “Some may have done poorly at other schools and want to prove themselves. Concordia would like nothing more than to see these students eventually walk across the stage on graduation day.”

Introduction to Concordia basics

About 300 new independent students came to either of two orientation sessions held Dec. 12 in Concordia’s J.A. DeSève Cinema, where they were introduced to the basics of Concordia life — where to get academic advising and where to get general help.

“We understand that this can be a bit bewildering and confusing at first, but we’re here to make things as smooth as possible for you,” Anne-Marie Ferrari, from the Centre for Mature Students, told the audience at the evening session.

“It’s important that our new independent students work hard and take responsibility. Get to know your professors and don’t blame others when things don’t go quite your way. Remember that being a student is a full-time job even if you’re part time.”

Other staff who participated in the sessions included Nelly Trakas, Ferrari’s colleague from the Centre for Mature Students, who addressed the afternoon session; Huguette Albert (administrative assistant, Office of the Registrar), who greeted students; Sandra Robinson (admissions interviewer, Office of the Registrar), who instructed students on how to register through CARL and the Web; and Heidi Weidemann (admissions counsellor, Office of the Registrar), who discussed how to qualify for various programs at Concordia.

“This [orientation session] really helps,” said Isabel, 24, from Longueuil. “I didn’t finish CEGEP, which was dumb, but now I’m ready to take some courses at Concordia and maybe eventually get a degree. I want to take some psychology courses, but I have to find out if there are prerequisites.”

Many of the courses offered to independent students require prerequisites (CEGEP equivalencies).

“I know I can do more with my life, and I think I can study in English, even though it’s my second language,” Suzanne said. “Concordia has a very good reputation among both English and French people. I plan to be a better more educated person when I leave Concordia than I am now.”