Second Trio: How to write and negotiate a graduation contract

The contract is a document that you write in conjunction with your advisor and, as needed, other facility and students. Basic to all of Johnston's academic life is the freedom to negotiate your Graduation Contract. That freedom can be preserved only when there is real room for negotiation. This means that every Johnstonian must have his or her Graduation Contract meeting no later than the first semester of the junior year. This leaves three full semesters and two Interims are open for planning and innovation. Johnston students suffer unnecessarily through procrastination in the writing of graduation contracts. After all, a graduation contract can be renegotiated or changed if your learning goals change. Aim to write the contract in your sophomore year, or, if you are a junior transfer, in the Interim.

Here are the three major features of a contract that you need to construct:

  1. A written narrative

    There is no exact template for writing this narrative, so you have lots of freedom as to how to present yourself. The narrative does have particular purposes, however, and keeping those in mind will make its drafting easier. The chief purpose of the narrative is to explain the B.A. or B.S. program that you have mapped out for yourself. This includes a discussion of the courses you've taken thus far, and especially of those you plan to take; how do they fit into your overall plan? Most importantly, you need to define your area(s) of emphasis. This means that the Graduation Contract Committee needs to know both your short-term and your long-term goals in order to evaluate the program you're proposing.

    In order to give you good advice, the Committee also needs to know something about your educational history. It is likely that some members of the Committee will not know you well. The narrative is the means by which they can come to know you and what you are about. So tell them what they need to know in order to understand your particular plan, and to give you the best possible advice. This may include a statement of your educational philosophy, and reasons for your emphasis area(s). If you think it would help, sample narratives from approved contracts are available to read in the Johnston Center office.

    The narrative will form part of your permanent record and will be sent to graduate schools, prospective employers, and so on. It is a public document, not just a piece of pure self-expression. So when writing your narrative, keep your audiences in mind.

    Neither the committee nor an outside audience such as graduate school need to know your entire autobiography, but they do need to understand your goals and how you arrived at them. You do have the right, after your contract is approved, to revise your narrative for the wider world. Narratives typically run between three and five pages (the Center record is forty pages; we hope it will never be broken!).

  2. A chronological listing of all classes taken and projected.

    After you have written your narrative, prepare a list of every course you have completed in college (at Redlands or elsewhere). Organize this list in chronological order, by semesters. The list should contain the exact name of the course and the number of units earned as it appears in your transcript. Then add the courses you are taking currently, and, finally, the courses you plan to take. It's harder to be precise about the exact order of future courses, but present at least a tentative schedule; this helps the Committee understand the design of your program. Mark these projected courses with an asterisk or some other symbol. You may also want to indicate some generic slots, like "Johnston seminar," or "upper division Sociology course."

    How do you choose projected courses? Generally, start with your dream education; what courses would you like to take. For most Johnstonians, it's more fruitful to start with an ideal list than with catalog requirements and other "real world" constraints. Once you have your list, then go over it with your advisor; you'll be surprised how many of these things you'll be able to work into your final contract. Your goals will make selection among your dreams easier: graduate schools and their requirements; standard majors; your career plans; the number of course slots you have left, and so on. You may also want to add courses removed from your central emphasis, subjects that you might not have a chance to study again with a teacher.

  3. A listing by academic discipline or area of all your courses.

    This list makes it possible for the committee--and outside audiences like grad schools--to get a quick overview of your entire program. Start the list with your area(s) of emphasis. Follow this with the major groupings: humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, quantitative reasoning and fine arts are the standard divisions of learning. You may want to alter this list, but it's a good place to begin. Don't cross-list courses under two areas; for example, don't put your "Karl Marx" course in both your sociology emphasis and your humanities listings. Under each area, then, list only those courses that are not included in your area of emphasis. Once again, mark your projected classes with an asterisk so that the Committee can keep your past and your future separate!