Unofficial Orientation Series: First Year Classes

Almost time for the learning part

Almost time for the learning part

By now you’re tenderly stroking the PDF-images of your plane tickets to Bradley Airport on your computer screen, brimming with excitement to head off to college to start the rest of your life. You’ve got loads of wonderful and exciting things very shortly ahead of you: orientation (which at Wesleyan happens to be awesome), meeting your classmates, and maybe doing a little partying. No doubt, if you’re interested in a place like Wesleyan, the classes also factor in at a high-priority level on your list of things to look forward to. Possibly, maybe even hopefully, they are at the top. You would be justified in this.

But deciding your first year classes takes some thought. For that, perhaps I, Real Student at Wesleyan University, can be of service.

The commencement of college-level learning is incredibly fun, challenging, and revelatory. Wesleyan, as I’m sure you know, has no core curriculum classes. (It does have “General Education Expectations,” something some majors require, but will not necessarily be required for you.) But don’t let this fact encourage you to track yourself. It’s great if you have a good idea of what you want to do, but there’s no way you’re certain; you’re not even toe-deep yet in Higher Education.

So let’s just jump in. There are these classes called FYS courses. This stands for “First Year Seminar.” These are small (around 12 people) discussion-/writing-based classes on a wide variety of topics. This semester they range from “The Biology of Sex” to “The Real McCoy: Constructing Identity,” both of which sound awesome. You can find the FYS list here. They are useful introductions to college-level writing and that woolly beast called “Critical Thinking.”

Even if you’re already certain what you want to study (which, again, you’re not), please refrain from just taking a bunch of huge intro classes. Taking some classes in preparation for certain majors is essential, but don’t load your schedule up with them—spread the love. Trust me, you’ll want a nice slew of varied topics. Leave space open for the possibility of other study interests. Additionally, if you’re set on double majoring, consider looking into the certificate programs. You might find that a secondary interest could be satisfied and recognized in your eventual degree without overloading yourself and diminishing space for interesting and varied classes.

There will probably never be time to take all of the classes you want. For me, the most upsetting part of signing up for classes is casting a woeful eye over all of the classes I’ll probably never get to take for this or that reason. But that’s a pretty great problem to have, if you ask me. And unless you’re one of those super-people that every school has, people who are track champions and community volunteer heroes and academic overachievers, you shouldn’t take five classes, and for the love of god, don’t take six. Unless you’re planning on never going out, never getting sleep, never getting involved in extracurriculars (which are often much more edifying than classes could ever be), or never having a waking minute unclouded by unbearable agony, probably four classes will suit you just fine. Five, if you’re really crazy. I know some people can handle it, but those people know who they are. There’s a difference between confidence and stupidity.

Also, for fuck’s sake, don’t take too many reading-heavy classes. You only have one brain. I know you were a hotshot at your high school, but college is a different animal. You’re probably no longer the smartest person around. Class levels have been adjusted accordingly. This goes for all of those “quantitative reasoning” classes, too. Unless you have two left brains, that’s too many numbers.

I took an intro chemistry course my first semester, which doesn’t fit into my major at all. In passing conversation I say it’s the worst mistake I ever made, but I actually know that it was a great idea. It was hard, that’s for sure, but I learned lots of useful stuff, which one example of that would be that chemistry’s not my thing. The moral of this story is that you should sign yourself up for classes that will take you outside of your comfort zone. You will be challenged and driven to do and think things you didn’t know you were capable of. What’s the point of exploring if it’s not unfamiliar territory?

One last thing: It might seem like a great idea to pile up classes on certain days so you can have others free. Keep in mind, however, that the homework load is often substantial and that having three classes in one day may make it hard for you to work at all afterwards. This means all of your work will be left on a free day. That may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, it isn’t easy to work for hours uninterrupted. You’ll know what I mean. Again, some people can do it. There are always exceptions. But don’t count on being one. I mean, you’re capable of great things and all, but don’t get in front of yourself.

Well, I guess that’s it. Godspeed, incoming freshmen; may you get the classes you desire, and may you not develop an addiction to energy drinks.