Cultivating the self through open curriculum


Senior Arielle Kirven discusses Amherst College with Sacred Heart and Amherst College alumna Mrs. Hannah Miracola. Courtesy of Arielle Kirven ’17

Two Sacred Heart Greenwich graduating seniors will personalize their educations as they matriculate at schools with an open curriculum. Seniors Arielle Kirven and Shannon Pyne will attend Amherst College and Brown University, respectively, in the fall and will venture into a new realm of academic responsibility.
Sacred Heart encourages young women to develop confidence in their intellects and abilities to succeed in every endeavor. As stated in Goal Five of the Sacred Heart Goals and Criteria, students strive for “personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom.” Head of School Mrs. Pamela Hayes believes that choosing a school with an open curriculum is a bold and rewarding choice. 
“For over 217 years, a Sacred Heart education allows its students to be self-reflective and to think broadly and deeply about creating solutions to real world problems. Our academic focus is to have students actively engaged and responsible for their learning, to grow in maturity through their interests, and to take risks while integrating their search for knowledge through a variety of experiments and disciplines. This focus seems to me to be very much in line with the current concept of some liberal arts colleges to offer an ‘open curriculum.'” Mrs. Hayes said. 
In an age of globalization and academic competition, students may benefit from a more personalized education that fosters understanding of the self. Colleges and universities that promote experimentation and exploration through an open curriculum, therefore, may put students in an excellent position for job placement, since many employers seek to hire employees with a wide range of knowledge, according to the New York Times. 

Senior Arielle Kirven discusses Amherst College with Sacred Heart and Amherst College alumna Mrs. Hannah Miracola. Courtesy of Arielle Kirven ’17

At Amherst College, Arielle will have the liberty to study entirely what she likes, beyond minor requirements. During their freshman year, Amherst students must complete a First-Year Seminar. Each student also must fulfill the requirements for his or her chosen major.
“For me, the open curriculum is a positive aspect of the Amherst experience because it affords students the flexibility to craft their own education and plan of study. But, I am hoping to graduate with a true foundation in the liberal arts with experience in not only the humanities, but in STEM and the social sciences,” Arielle said. 
At Amherst, students have the option to meet with course advisors who give counsel throughout the course selection process. Advisors consistently give helpful suggestions for students looking to study a certain subject. More often, advisors navigate the course options with students who are not sure what they want to study. Advisors perfect strategies for dealing with anxious students who are worried about which courses are the best fit, according to
Amherst students may also take classes at any of the five consortia schools including Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Amherst offers over 850 courses, but students have access to thousands more due to the variety of courses taught at all five schools. This academic policy expands a student’s options even further.
Although an open curriculum offers many educational opportunities, the lack of structure also presents directional challenges to some students. As college freshmen first adjust to their new school’s social and academic environments, they may feel overwhelmed choosing classes from course catalogs several hundred pages long. Students must trust their judgement in creating a substantial course load and choosing the right classes for their major, according to Shannon, who will attend Brown, believes her personal flexibility will allow her to triumph in customizing her education.
Senior Shannon Pyne will join Brown University’s class of 2021. Courtesy of Shannon Pyne ’17

“The open curriculum is a little intimidating because next year I will have no guidelines. I have to choose what I want to study, which is a great opportunity, but also stressful. Ultimately, I am open minded,” Shannon said.
Students at Brown have three requirements before they graduate. First, each student must complete at least 30 courses in eight semesters. Second, every undergraduate must study at least one concentration program, or major. Lastly, students must possess excellent skill in written English, according to 
According to, navigating an open curriculum is comparable to “making a map.” Students challenge themselves to route their education. In essence, instead of narrowing skills by focusing on developing  “a certain body of knowledge,” students prioritize self-discovery and personal development. Schools offering this breed of freedom aim for students to study and conquer any idea that peaks their interest.  
“As Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ, one of the great intellectual role models, so clearly expressed, ‘cultivate the wish to learn, rather than the wish to be taught. If we wait to be taught, we shall never learn,'” Mrs. Hayes said.
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