Report: #1501572

Complaint Review: Boston University Continuing Education -

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  • Reported By: Disappointed Students — USA
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  • Boston University Continuing Education United States

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The Boston University Certificate in Genealogical Research course is far too expensive for the subpar quality of instruction that we received. 


The cost of the course is $2,695.00. The four modules only scratch the surface on a wide range of genealogy topics, but never go into depth.  It was a broad survey of a lot of topics. It was also too compressed and too rushed. Essentially BU tries to cram too much into fifteen weeks, and it does a disservice to the students. 


One of the most important things to remember when selecting a genealogy course is finding one that focuses on what your interests are, how much you can spend, and how much time you can devote to your studies. 


If you decide to enroll in the BU program, be prepared to spend at least 20+ hours a week. Many of my former classmates said the were putting in 30-50 hours per week during some of the course. 


The assignments were very intensive and time consuming. Most of us spent 30+ hours a week on the reading and written assignments. The assignments also had a one week window from when they were posted on the website and when the assignments were due.


Another institution offering genealogy coursework similar to the BU program is the National Genealogical Society. NGS offers American Genealogy Studies, which consist of four courses for a total of $530.00 for all four courses or $65.00 to $200.00 per course depending on the course, and I believe that you can pick which courses work for you. 


In addition to the four core courses, NGS also offers Continuing Genealogy Studies, which have twelve courses that you may choose from depending on your interests. The price of the continuing education courses range from $75.00 to $100.00 per course.  All of the courses are self-paced and individual courses. NGS program is truly an asynchronous course, which is important if you need to work on your own schedule. 


By offering individual courses, you can focus on each subject and take your time to actually learn, process, and absorb the material instead of being rushed through the modules like BU does. 


If you are interested in genetic genealogy and DNA, BU falls very short in teaching the genetic DNA coursework. Before I started this course, I read one of Blaine Bettinger’s genetic genealogy books, and I knew more about DNA from Bettinger’s book coming into the course than what was actually taught. 


We used one of Blaine Bettinger’s books in the class. At the end of each chapter there are exercises. I found the exercises in the book to be far more beneficial than the assignments that BU assigned. 


Many of my classmates regardless of their genetic genealogy knowledge, thought the DNA portion was lacking in depth. 


The National Genealogical Society offers two genetic genealogy courses one beginner and one intermediate level. Each course is $100.00. 


You can find webinars about genetic genealogy taught by Blaine Bettinger and others in the genetic genealogy field.


I have surveyed many of the people who were in the program with me. I also corresponded with some people who took the course in 2018 and 2019.


The biggest complaint was the utter lack of teaching or instructor guidance. Many people said when they asked for help or clarification regarding an assignment, they were consistently told that "due to the nature of this course being advanced, we cannot answer this type of question as it will give you the answer or give away too much information for this assignment." 


Many of my former classmates said that they learned a few things, but did not learn nearly enough to justify the cost of the program. 


One student was told this is a master's level course, and we were expected to be able to complete the course with little to no help or guidance. 


Many of us have masters degrees and during the course of our studies for our master’s degrees, we never experienced this kind of an attitude from an institution of higher learning. 


One of the students whom I interviewed had this to say. 


“The policy about not receiving any help or guidance was not on the BU site regarding the certificate course. It would have been helpful in knowing ahead of time what I could or should have expected. I actually used an instructor's admonition, word-for-word, toward me in my scathing review of one of the modules. 


So, the biggest lessons I learned in taking the course were 1) Do not ask questions of the instructors. 2) Do not ask for clarification regarding assignments. 3) You are on your own until this is over at the end of fifteen weeks.”


BU tries to justify this policy in a couple of different ways. 


They make the claim that students are told at the outset of the course that their online learning experience will be more “student-focused and participative” than typical “classroom learning.” 


We were completely forbidden to communicate with each other outside of the class because there is a strict rule against students collaborating. If your learning style is to collaborate with other students, then some of the other course I mention allows students to collaborate. In fact, ProGen is a collaborative environment.


Their second claim is our facilitators and instructors don't teach to the test; we provide the baseline knowledge for students needed to create work products and complete assignments. There are some questions related to assignments that we cannot answer because we would be teaching to the test.”


While none of us expected them to “teach to the test,” we at least expected some type of instruction for the amount of tuition that we paid. 


Of course, we would expect an advanced class to be challenging.  We did NOT pay $2695.00 for an advanced course that provided very little instruction or any type of guidance. Using the excuse that it is an advanced class NOT to provide instruction is completely unprofessional and unethical. 


As I noted above, any time we asked a question we were met with pat answers or even worse, a few students mentioned that the instructors were rude or condescending in their response. 


“Due to the nature of this course, we cannot answer this type of question as it will give you the answer for this assignment.”

One would think that an instructor would figure out a way to answer a question or provide guidance without giving away the answers to the assignment. 


A few people even said that they were so stressed out from the course that is was making them physically and/or emotionally unwell.


In addition to courses being offered at the National Genealogical Society, there are a couple of different study groups, which are very low in cost. One is ProGen, which has a stellar reputation.


Another is the Gen Proof Study Group, which provides an opportunity for participants to study the chapters in “Mastering Genealogical Proof” by Thomas W. Jones. Participants read each chapter and complete the exercises in the book, then meet together with other genealogists to discuss the concepts. I believe this study group would be very valuable to someone who wants to become a certified genealogist. 


If you are interested in forensics genealogy, there is a course offered through SLIG, called “Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy.” It is nine week course for $500.00, and is being taught by some of the top forensic genealogist in the field. 


SLIG also offers a variety of online classes. 


After researching, reviewing, and interviewing many people in the genealogy field as professionals or students, I can only conclude that there are far better genealogy educational courses available. Especially when you compare the cost and quality of instruction. 





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#12 Author of original report

In Order to Succeed

AUTHOR: DES - (United States)

POSTED: Thursday, July 15, 2021

The BU Research Genealogy course is very demanding and especially time very consuming. Plan on 30+ hours a week. In order to succeed it is imperative that you understand Tom Jones’ "Mastering Genealogical Documentation.” It is used a lot in the BU course. I would join this study group first. See web link below. This study group is based on his other book, "Mastering Genealogical Proof” by Thomas W. Jones.

While the books are different, a lot of valuable subject mattered is covered in the study group, which will lead to deeper understanding of his "Mastering Genealogical Documentation.” https://genproofstudygroups.com/ Please see attachment. In model 2, one of the assignments is that you are given a bunch of citations and you have to know the citation concept who, what, when, where is, and where in.

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#11 Author of original report

Forensic and Genetic Genealogy

AUTHOR: S.W. - (United States)

POSTED: Thursday, July 08, 2021

 They try to cram too much into fifteen weeks, and it does a disservice to the students. The subject matter covered in fifteen weeks needs to be broken into separate courses, so that students can really learn, process, and absorb the subject matter. I decided to sign up for this course based upon the description of module 3. I was completely disappointed by how poorly the content was executed. I felt like I was misled. I feel like I have been a victim of consumer fraud.

This is the description of module 3, "Forensic Genealogy" from the website. It seems to be more of a description of what a forensic genealogist does. "This module provides practical examples, intriguing cases, and in-class problem solving that define the parameters of ethical forensic work. Generally, the most lucrative of the genealogical specialties, forensic research is done for legal purposes, often at the direction of an attorney, law enforcement, the medical community, or the Department of Defense.

Exercises in tracing heirs for probate, identifying people in old photographs, finding birth parents or lost children through autosomal DNA, or naming the unknown dead will expand students' genealogical toolkits." In my opinion they oversell what they promise to "teach" in module 3. They fall very short in the genetic DNA coursework. The DNA section is one of the main reasons that I enrolled in the BU course.

I have been teaching myself genetic genealogy DNA for a few years. I have solved adoption cases and unknown fatherhood cases through my self-taught skills. I assumed in an advanced class the DNA portion would be advanced. It was not. They try to claim it is. I can assure you that everything that was taught in the DNA section, I had learned from an introductory DNA genealogy book that I read three years ago. I remember the first DNA assignment. All we did was mostly regurgitate definition from the textbook.

There was a bit more to it, but pretty simple stuff. They do not even introduce third party DNA tools like DNA painting or DNA AutoClusters, which one would expect from an "advanced" course. I am going to take a course just on forensic genealogy, which includes genetic DNA, at a different institution. The course is nine weeks long taught by four of the top people in the field and the cost is $495.00. After reviewing a very detailed description of the nine week forensics course, which focuses solely on forensics BU falls very short on teaching forensic genealogy.

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#10 Author of original report

I really like this comment

AUTHOR: Anonymous - (United States)

POSTED: Wednesday, June 16, 2021

 I would like to follow up on this comment. There needs to be far more transparency about what to expect in this course assignments etc. before the class starts or right at the very beginning. This needs to happen for a multitude of reasons. One reason is that the timeframe to withdraw and expect any type of refund is very short.

Secondly, you have no idea what is expected until each new module is released at the start of each new session. They do NOT even provide a syllabus. I have spoken to other instructors in other genealogy programs, and was given the syllabus before I even enrolled. That helped me to determine if the course was right for me. I have never taken a course that did NOT provide a syllabus until this one, which I found very strange. It made ask what are they trying to hide. I want to focus a bit on module 2.

I believe there are three assignments if I remember correctly. I can only remember the first two which are all about citations and the Tom Jones book is the textbook for module two. As I iterated before, this program is a lot of work, and many of these types of assignments are brand new to people. When you cannot even ask questions and are expected to "figure it out” as is often the response from the instructors, how are you really supposed to learn this and do quality work. Here is an idea of the assignments to expect from Module 2. "Goal: Demonstrate that you can analyze sources, information, and evidence using the concepts and terminology taught in the first unit of Module 2 and that you can develop a focused research question concerning identity, kinship, or a supporting question.

Note: This assignment is an academic exercise in analysis--not a narrative discussion of a completed research project or a proof argument. We are not asking you to draw a conclusion about the research question. Instructions: For help in completing this assignment, refer to chapter 12 of Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, to standards numbers 10 and 40 of Genealogy Standards, and your Module 2 content. Use the supplied template (preferred) or create a similar Word document. Included are six documents related to William Johnson and his relatives.

Below is a research question to use in analyzing the records: Who was the wife of William Johnson, probably born in the late 1780s in New York, and living in Berkshire County, Massachusetts from at least 1840–1860? Step 1: Three Sources: From the six provided sources, choose three sources of three different types—not two marriage records, for example. If you decide to use the 1840 census, you can use four sources and one of them can be the 1850 or 1860 census.

Describe each source with enough descriptive information so that your grader can tell that you understand the source. Classify each listed source as an original record, derivative record, or an authored narrative. (For classifications of sources, see Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards pages 277–79.) Explain your reasoning for your classification of each.

Step 2: Extract, identify, and explain information items: Extract all information items potentially relevant to the genealogical question from the sources you listed in step 1. List these information items. Then identify each item’s informant. Classify the information item as primary, secondary, or undetermined. Label the evidence each information item provides as direct, indirect, or negative. Concisely explain your reasoning. For indirect evidence, this also means noting with which of the other evidence item(s) it combines. These other evidence items can come from any of the provided documents. (For informants and information categories, see Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards pages 275–77 and the glossary in Genealogy Standards. For evidence categories, see Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards pages 269–75 and the glossary in Genealogy Standards.)

Step 3: Apply method to compare and contrast: Use one of the methods discussed in Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards on pages 283–87 to compare and contrast the evidence you identified in step 2. These pages and the NGSQ article by Laurel Baty provide examples. Discuss the patterns and points of agreement and disagreement your comparison reveals. (Add more space as you need it. Step 3 can be narrative, bullet points, timeline, table, etc., or a combination.) Step 4: Discuss independence: Review the section "Evidence Independence” on page 282 of Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards. Explain your assessment of the independence (or lack of independence, or questionable independence) of the evidence you correlated in step 3. If pertinent, discuss how your assessment might affect your correlation in step 3.

Step 5: Discuss accuracy: Identify one information item (not a source as a whole) from step 2 that you have at this point tentatively assessed to be accurate. Using the principles, concepts, and vocabulary this unit covers, explain why you hypothesize your chosen information item to be accurate. See Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards chapter 12 with special attention to the section "Detail assessments” on page 279, and pages 329–30 for the section titled "Source and Information Analysis.”

Step 6: Develop a new research question: Pretend that the original research question has been answered through your work here. The client would like you to continue researching this family. Using what you learned in this unit about writing research questions, develop a new research question. Label it as a major or supporting question. If you posed a major question, tell us if it’s a question of relationship or identity. In a few sentences, explain your reasons for choosing the question. PART A Instructions: As we did in Discussion 3: Citation Issues/Prompt 2, label the elements (5 Ws) in the following two reference note citations. Identify and list the citation part(s) beside the appropriate "W” in the list below. Each question is worth up to 5 points.

PART A Sources: SOURCE 1: William Jolliffe, Historical, Genealogical, and Biographical Account of the Jolliffe Family of Virginia, 1652 to 1893 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1893), 19; digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 3 September 2019), image 26. Who: William Jolliffe, the person who wrote the source of information. His name appears first in the citation, which is the usual place for the who placement. What: Historical, Genealogical, and Biographical Account of the Jolliffe Family of Virginia, this citation helps us to understand how accurate or error-prone a source may be.

When: 1893, this is when the source was published. Whereis: Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company and http://www.archive.org, the source was originally published in Philadelphia and can be found at the above URL Wherein: digital images, Internet Archive at archive.org, it is a digital image found at the NARA website. Part B. For each source listed below, create three citations unless otherwise instructed: A long-form citation for the first footnote referring to the source. (9 points) A short-form citation for subsequent footnotes referring to the same source. (2 pts) A source list citation as used for a bibliography or reference list. (2 pts) A few additional questions will have points noted where they are asked.

PART B Sources: SOURCE 3: The PDF included with the assignment instructions contains an image of a newspaper page with an article about a Mrs. Edwards. Cite the article as if you had read it in the original newspaper while holding it in your hands. Be sure to demonstrate that you understand how to shorten a title in a short-form citation. The newspaper (including this specific issue) can also be searched for and viewed at the Library of Congress website Chronicling America, should you prefer to view the article that way instead of in the provided PDF. (Still cite it as if holding the paper in your hands.) Long-form reference-note citation: "Mrs. Edwards Consents to Go Back to Testify,” Tulsa Daily World, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 17 June 1918, p. front page, col. 5 Short-form reference-note citation: "Mrs. Edwards Consents to Go Back to Testify,” Tulsa Daily World, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 17 June 1918 Source list citation: Oklahoma, Tulsa. Tulsa Daily World, 17 June 1918.” If I remember correctly, there are either 20 or 30 different sources giving where you have to write the three different styles of citation for each source.

The third assignment in module two involves writing genealogy proof arguments. Sorry that I could not provide more regarding the third assignment, but I cannot find anything in my notes. Needless to say, module 2 is difficult and the assignments are tedious and very time consuming.

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#9 Consumer Comment

BU genealogy research course

AUTHOR: M.A. Wirth - (United States)

POSTED: Monday, April 05, 2021

I took the BU research course in 2020. I really did not enjoy it. I do not think it is a good value. It is far too expensive for what you get. I never thought that we went deep into any area. Overall it was more like a survey class. 

  The DNA section was completely beginner. I had one of Blaine Bettinger’s genetic genealogy DNA books a few years before I took the BU course. Essentially I did NOT learn anything new about genetic genealogy in the BU course. I had already solved multiple adoption cases and unknown father cases using DNA before I took the BU course.

My perspective as a librarian regarding the “scavenger hunt” assignment in module 1 was also perplexing. When we had to give step-by-step of our search strategy for the first assignment, I found that very strange especially because our grade was mostly based upon our search strategy. I did not even have to give my professor for my reference and research class in library school my step-by-step search strategy. The point of a search is to find the answer and to validate the credibility of the source.   The assignment due in module 4 was two parts. We had to search for something in a repository that has not been digitized. I have searched in many repositories and archives while pursuing my MLS; however, I thought some of the repository assignment was superfluous.    Some of the repository assignment was worthwhile because it required you to form a research question based upon something in the document.   

Here is the assignment. 

  1. "Repository: Provide the name, address, overview of the collection of records, hours, availability, and the dates you visited. Cite the source of this information.

  2. Experience: How did you acclimate yourself to the facility? How did you locate records? Did you work with the staff at this repository? What impressed or surprised you during your visit?

  3. Manuscript: Choose a manuscript that meets the requirements outlined above. Provide a full reference note source citation to the manuscript, a description of the physical characteristics of the manuscript, and a detailed description of the contents of the document. Depending on the length of the letter or diary, this could be a transcription, an abstract, several extracted quotes, and/or a detailed summary.

  4. Usage: Discuss a variety of possible parties that may be interested in the manuscript. Think of several questions about the subjects named in the letter/diary, what may have happened to them, what their relationships are to each other, etc. List these questions in your report.


  1. Research Question: Carefully choose one of those questions for use in the Research Report assignment. The question should focus on the identity of an individual or the relationship between individuals. The research question should be specific, focused, and answerable with additional research.

  2. Research Plan: Create a research plan identifying sources that may help answer this research question. Be specific in identifying the source, what you will be searching for, and the details of the search. The research plan should identify:
    1. The type of record
    2. Locality to search (city, county, state)
    3. Time period to search
    4. The person you are searching for or the purpose of the search
    5. The repository or website where the record will be searched. Include specific details relevant to the record’s location (call numbers, database titles, etc.)
  3. Conclusions: Include any comments or observations about the assignment, your experience, the repository, or the records found."

I did not like module 2 at all. I understand that citations are important especially as a researcher. The second assignment in module 2 was to write 20-30 citations (I do not remember the exact amount, but it was a lot). They essentially gave us a list of sources, and we had to write a citation for each source. When you write a citation for anything, I assume that you will look at a citation manual for accuracy and form whether you are using Chicago, APA, legal citations, et al. I have a BA in English, MLIS, and a paralegal certificate, so I am accustom to writing citations. I have never had to just write a page of citations without it being attached to a piece that I had written. Needless to say it was very time consuming and very tedious.    In fact that is when I semi dropped out of the program. There was no reason to dropout completely because I could not get a refund. There was no reason for me to continue doing the assignments because they were very time consuming and not particularly beneficial.    Someone whom I spoke to who also took the class is a professional educator. She has a masters degree in education. She said that BU needs to hire an education consultant who can teach the BU instructors about pedagogy because they do NOT know how to teach.    That is the biggest complaint many of us had. The program is far too expensive to be a “self-taught class.” According to the ripoff report, BU makes the claim that students are told at the outset of the course that their online learning experience will be more “student-focused and participative” than typical “classroom learning.”   

If you are interested in forensic genealogy, do NOT take the BU course. Forensic genealogy is very different than traditional genealogy, and BU does NOT do a good job teaching forensic genealogy. There are two forensic genealogy courses being offered right now one is offered through SLIG and the other through GRIP. They are solely focused on forensic genealogy and go into depth. The courses at SLIG and GRIP are taught by people who have extensive work experience in field. I believe most of them are lawyers. Forensic genealogy involves legal issues. The BU forensic genealogy module 3 is only four weeks. Four weeks is not nearly long enough to do justice to forensic genealogy. Like I said in the beginning the BU course is more like a college survey course instead of being advanced course, which they claim to be. Another thing to be aware of for forensic genealogy is that in some states special license is required like a private investigator license. It is imperative to know the law in your state.   

Overall I would never recommend the BU genealogy research course. Like this report says, there are multiple classes that cost a lot less and you can focus on your particular areas of interest. 

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#8 Author of original report

Dropout rate

AUTHOR: Anonymous - (United States)

POSTED: Thursday, March 18, 2021

 Someone reported that in her group—the class is divided into small groups—see her quote below. I have interviewed many former students. "We started with about 50 people in my group, and we ended up with about 22. They dropped out because of the work load or difficulty in getting help from the instructors.”

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#7 Author of original report

Boston University Research Certificate course

AUTHOR: Anonymous - (United States)

POSTED: Monday, March 01, 2021

 A few comments that I have received from former students is about the confusion language regarding certificate and certification and what BU’s program actually does. NGS is very straight forward on their website regarding the question of certification. Please see text below. "After taking one of the Continuing Genealogical Studies courses, am I a certified genealogist? Although the National Genealogical Society has a variety of courses available to help you learn about the methods, skills, and standards for certification, NGS is not a licensing body. Therefore, no formal genealogical credential or accreditation is implied.

Please refer to the websites of the Board for Certification of Genealogists® (BCG) or the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) for their policies or standards for certification or accreditation.” This is the language that Boston University uses on their website. "The Genealogical Research Certificate program leads to a certificate from Boston University, and is excellent preparation for those who seek certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists®.” The biggest difference between the two is BU does NOT disclose that they are NOT a certifying or licensing body.

By not disclosing this information, they are being misleading, and it could potentially be confusing to someone who is still learning about the various genealogy programs and certifications. I think BU needs to be more transparent about what they are and more importantly what they are not. Their current verbiage is definitely murky.

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#6 Author of original report

BU genealogy

AUTHOR: Anonymous - (United States)

POSTED: Friday, February 12, 2021

 The refund policy is absurd. When you are only five days into the program, you have no idea what it is like. It is highway robbery in my opinion. "Withdrawal Policy, Transfers and Fees Students who drop before the course starts will receive a full refund less $300 non-refundable cancellation fee. Students who drop after the start of course through the fifth day of class will receive a 50% refund, less a $300 non-refundable cancellation fee. Students who withdraw after the fifth day of course will not be eligible for a refund. Credit card payment refunds must be credited to the same credit card. You will not be issued a transcript when withdrawing a class or program.

Please note that ceasing to log into online course or program, or notifying your instructor that you are withdrawing, does not constitute an official withdrawal. A "W” grade will be noted for withdrawing from the course(s) after the 5th class date. Students may be eligible for a one-time transfer if they meet the following requirements; Request to transfer from the course is made within five (5) business/academic days of the start date Only one transfer is permitted per student, and the student must transfer to another term within one year A $300 transfer fee will be assessed”

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#5 Consumer Comment


AUTHOR: Andy - (United States)

POSTED: Tuesday, February 02, 2021

You read my mind!!!!!!!!! 

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#4 General Comment

Boston University Genealogy Program

AUTHOR: KD - (United States)

POSTED: Tuesday, November 10, 2020

 I also took the principles course. I agree with the comment left regarding the principles class. I found the information on the website was poorly organized. It was very convoluted and difficult to find the information. The quizzes and the assignments were written in a confusing way. People would ask for clarification, and were told to figure it out. I found the response rude. We were not looking for the answer, but we were trying to figure out exactly what they wanted us to do. There seems to be a prevailing attitude of not answering questions. If you have a busy work schedule, this course is on a tight schedule with time sensitive assignments.

I am certainly glad that I chose the less expensive and shorter of the two courses. If I decide to pursue further genealogy courses, I will look into the courses suggested in the original complaint. My mom’s friend did the certificate course. She has been doing genealogy for 30+ years, she found the original complaint report to be very spot on. She did ProGen after the BU genealogy course.

She absolutely loved it. She loved collaborating with her study group. She really enjoyed learning from the other group members. She liked the pace because she felt like she had time to absorb the material. She thought the BU program was too rushed.

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#3 Author of original report

Correction to post

AUTHOR: Anonymous - (United States)

POSTED: Tuesday, November 10, 2020

 I did not take the principles course. I interviewed people in the principles course. I used too much copy and pasting in my original comment, so I need to make the corrections. I need edit more carefully before posting. I apologize for any confusion.

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#2 Author of original report

Boston University Principles Genealogy Course

AUTHOR: Anonymous - (United States)

POSTED: Tuesday, November 03, 2020

 I completed the BU principles genealogy course. The attitude of the instructors and facilitators was the same as what was written in this complaint for the certificate program. The instructors implied that we did not know how to study, which is an utter deflection. The problem is they do not know how to teach. Many of my classmates spent 20-30 hours a week on the assignments. It is very time demanding. I am just glad that I opted for principles course over the certificate course. I saved $1700.00 and principles is approximately half as long, which was pretty miserable. I could not imagine doubling the amount of time for that kind of misery.

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#1 Author of original report

BU Genealogy

AUTHOR: Anonymous - (United States)

POSTED: Tuesday, November 03, 2020

An additional finding aid.

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