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We've had a couple questions since the dawn of Academia.SE asking for advice about undergraduate-related topics, the most recent being this well-formulated and generally pretty solid question. In the past, we've discouraged these kinds of questions. That was a while ago, though, and we've matured as a forum since then. Given how many upvotes the current question has received in such a short time, I'm curious what the community's current view is on undergraduate-related questions; should we continue to discourage them or should we allow them?

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  • What does an upvote on this question mean? Does it mean continue to discourage them or allow them?
    – StrongBad
    May 28 '13 at 8:30
  • 1
    @DanielE.Shub - I typically interpret question upvotes as "this is a good question", and the answer should only be inferred from the answers below.
    – eykanal Mod
    May 28 '13 at 12:26
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What I wonder about undergraduate admissions questions is whether anybody here can seriously address them, in a deeper or better informed way than just repeating information available from their college's admissions web site. I think very few faculty and almost no students could do this, at least in the sorts of systems I'm familiar with (private research university in the U.S.). For example, I have no idea how admissions officers evaluate applications from adults, or how the criteria vary between schools.

There are plenty of widespread ideas about how admissions decisions are made, which may or may not be true. Unless we either get answers from people involved in the process or get answers that point to authoritative information sources, there's a real likelihood of voting answers up based on how widely they are believed rather than how true they are.

I'd also be a little concerned if admissions officers started showing up to answer questions, since I imagine that would be incredibly popular and could easily take over the entire site.

So I'd be inclined not to expand the site's mission to include undergraduate admissions questions, even though this particular question is important and well formulated.

As for other sorts of undergraduate questions, I think there's less of an issue than with admissions questions, but I'd still restrict the focus quite a bit. From my perspective, a good undergraduate question should either deal with students who hope to become academics or with how academia works. I imagine that most requests for undergraduate advice would not fall into these categories, but some would.

1
  • 1
    How would admissions officers answering questions "take over the entire site?" Sure, you might have to create a whole slew of new tags, but why / how would this suppress the rest of the existing activity? Jan 6 '14 at 14:27
7

You make a good point. For me, what I really want to avoid, are questions like: "I like this and that, what program should I choose?" or "shall I take this class or this other class?", I can see a lot like that on Reddit, and this is hardly generalizable.

I have the feeling that many questions asked by undergraduate students looking for a program are usually not generalizable, and that's the main problem. However, in this case, the question you mention is very general (how to prepare for university as an adult rather than after leaving high-school).

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  • I completely agree with your sentiment about "good undergrad questions/bad undergraduate questions". The question comes down to whether we can include guidelines about generalizability in the FAQ "scope" question.
    – eykanal Mod
    May 4 '12 at 13:38
  • That's a good question, I'll think about it, in the mean time, I'd be glad to know the opinion of the other members :)
    – user102
    May 4 '12 at 16:04
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Is this site supposed to be for serious academics of graduate level and above, or not? The FAQ says that it is.

If we welcome undergrad questions, let's be explicit, (and anyone who wants a serious academic site, can go look elswhere). How junior do we go? Kindergarten and above?

But if we're sticking with the FAQ as it is, then let's close and delete all undergraduate (and lower) questions. On-topic vs off-topic counts for more than upvotes.

Candidates for closure as off-topic:

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  • 10
    I think you're a bit too strict with the FAQ. I mean, those two questions for instance are indeed asked by undergrad, but their topic could also concern graduate students. I personally put a higher value on the quality of the question than on the closeness to the topic. That being said, if enough people ask to close these questions, I wouldn't object (but it does not seem to be the case for those two). I don't believe that they make Academia.SE a less serious academic site, but I might be wrong :)
    – user102
    May 7 '12 at 7:41
  • That second question in particular should be of interest to academics. Many academics spend part (or in my case most) of their time teaching. My institution is losing students and money because of "free" or low-cost online education. Academics need to be able to adapt.
    – Ben Norris
    Jun 27 '12 at 14:42
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I "request to expand academia to include undergrad questions". I know that "Please do not bring undergraduate questions to academia. The Academia FAQ makes it clear that such questions are off-topic. They will be closed, and then deleted. Repeated deletions will earn you the suspension of your question-asking rights." You might "doubt that a new site is really needed for undergraduates, and this site appears to support a smaller audience than some sites." So if academia S.E. still doesn't want to "cater for undergraduates", I propose a new site http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/47320/undergraduate

quotes from https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8165/is-this-proposal-needed-considering-academia-can-be-expanded-in-scope-via-its-m/8170#comment13588_8170

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  • Hey Raindrop, thanks for posting. As you see here, the community has voted against this particular idea, but you're welcome to open a new question on meta and bring it back up. Note that I've posted to the discussion on your proposal to help highlight differences between the sites.
    – eykanal Mod
    Nov 12 '12 at 0:51
-2

I think AC.SE should stop excluding undergraduates. Reasons:

  • Undergraduates are academics too. The dictionary defines academia as "the life, community, or world of teachers, schools, and education", which includes undergraduates. Notably this definition also includes high schools and primary schools and even kindergartens, but as another dictionary points out "academia" usually refers to universities.
  • Because undergraduate admissions is an essential part of most universities, questions about undergraduate admissions should not be excluded. I've only seen two objections to including this. The first is that nobody "here" can answer them. The other is that if the people who can actually answer them shows up, they might swamp the SE. Neither are convincing. First, professors aren't the only people in academia, and we already have questions which most professors probably cannot answer (example). Besides, that's kind of the point of SE - one can get answers from whoever knows them, regardless of who they are; furthermore if one doesn't know the answer chances are someone else does, and they can write an answer. Secondly, there are also a lot of questions about graduate admissions. I don't see why a canonical answer ala this one wouldn't work for undergraduate admissions.
  • Many undergraduate questions are answerable, in fact many of them are already asked, upvoted, and answered.
  • If undergraduate questions aren't asked here, where should they be asked? I certainly can't imagine an "Undergraduate.SE" since that would overlap so seriously with this one.
  • Finally one could argue that undergraduate questions are often not-generalizable. I don't find this convincing. First, the two examples ("which program should I choose?" and "which course should I take?") are both applicable to graduate studies as well. Second, one can always vote to close.

I think AC.SE should set its scope as all things specific to universities, including undergraduate concerns. (This would mean that questions on university housing is also within scope.)

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  • We no longer exclude undergraduates. The policy was changed some years ago. If you look at the help center you'll see that.
    – Massimo Ortolano Mod
    Oct 12 '20 at 1:23
  • See also this question, which originated the change afair: academia.meta.stackexchange.com/q/3300/20058
    – Massimo Ortolano Mod
    Oct 12 '20 at 1:26
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    The help center still excludes questions about undergraduate admissions, life and culture, however.
    – Allure
    Oct 12 '20 at 2:16
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    @Allure: This post reflects our current undergraduate policy. If you want to get rid of the two exceptions, ask a new meta question suggesting this and argue against the specific points brought forward for these exceptions. (As the exceptions considerably differ, I suggest addressing each of them in a separate question.) As it stands, your initiative will probably get lost and confuse many as it is not based on the status quo.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Oct 12 '20 at 5:19
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    Also mind, that I am pretty ambivalent to the two exceptions, as neither is a big thing in my country: Admission systems are pretty clear in most fields and there is hardly any undergraduate-specific life and culture and I guess many other users feel the same. This is something you may want to take into account when phrasing a question: Half of our users have strong opinions on this matter and the other half has no idea what the fuzz is all about.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Oct 12 '20 at 5:29

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