Unofficial Orientation Series 2019: First Year Classes

This is an update of un meli-melo’s post which was an update of Jackson‘s post from 2015, which was an update of skorn‘s post from 2014. Which was an update of DaPope‘s post from 2013. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, or some shit like that, right?

 

This is part of our 2019 Unofficial Orientation Series. A quick reminder that you can check out the welcome post here and past years’ series here.

Take a nice deep breath in, at this point you’re either on-campus or just days away.  The excitement is tangible, new campus, new room, new people.  Before you get too wrapped up in your new freedom let’s talk about the real excitement: Your courses, the splendid garden that is Wesmaps, and what this year might be like academically.

I myself remember being confused by the process of choosing and then actually signing up for that class during my first semester so hopefully, this post provides a little clarity in the whole subject (and not the opposite).  Worst comes to worst just remember that most first-year classes are fairly big and your chances of getting into them are pretty high.

On that happy note, let’s dive right into this abyss!

First-Year Seminar (FYS)

First-Year Seminars are small (15 people maximum) discussion-based classes on a variety of topics, this year comprising of classes like “The Prison State: Race, Law, and Mass Incarceration in U.S. History”, “old My Wine: Drinking Culture in Ancient Greece”, “Why You Can’t Write”, and “Uncertainty and the Future”. You can find the full FYS list here.

These classes are meant to raise the level of your thought from the deep pit of high school drudgery and #2 pencils to the glorious, glimmering majesty of academia’s gilded bookshelf. It’s a discussion class. “What? Professors want to actually hear my thoughts? And have me share them with other people? Preposterous.”

~Personal opinion time~ FYS classes are great, they’re an especially wonderful way to meet new people who are in the same class as you, however as someone who didn’t take an FYS I’d like to mention that if there isn’t one you’re particularly interested in don’t fret.  Many normal classes also cover fascinating topics, and since they’re open to all students they might have livelier and more educated discussions.  This isn’t to say one is necessarily better than the other, it’s just that if you do one and not the other you’re probably not missing too much.

Another thing to keep in mind is that FYS classes are only available to you during your first two semesters.

Some tips and tricks on classes and workload

In any and every semester, you’ll want to have some semblance of balance and diversity among your classes. First and foremost, that means don’t take four math or memorization-heavy classes and don’t take four reading-heavy classes. It will be painful and in most cases make you hate school. If you do take 4 classes that are all going to be pretty intense, a surprisingly easy thing to do since there are so many tempting classes out there, just prepare yourself.

By the time midterms roll around and you have four papers or four exams to contend with, you’ll wish you had chosen differently. It’s always good to mix things up a little.

This principle lends itself quite well to a different kind of diversity: diversity of subject matter. It’s a similar principle. You’ll want to take classes in a variety of subjects so that you’re not constantly thinking about the same thing all the time. You are going to a liberal arts university after all. If you know you want to double-major in bio and neuro and become a world-renowned brain surgeon, I dig it, it sounds sweet. Just know that there are history and philosophy and computer science courses out there that are going to change your life and make you see the world in ways you’ve never thought possible.

Taking those courses doesn’t preclude you from being a world-renowned brain surgeon. You’ll just be a world-renowned brain surgeon who took cool classes in college. You’ll be that far off concept of “well-rounded”, where you are interesting, multi-faceted, humble, and a great person to be (and be around). So live a little.

An addendum: if you’re feeling pressure to only take such-and-such a type of course, talk to your adviser or someone else at school knowledgeable in such things.

Extra addendum: College is preparing you for your future, and yours alone. When you leave college, you have to be who you want to be. Talk to department heads and other students, basically, anyone and everyone. You never know what might interest you.)

As un-meli-melo put it in our 2018 post:

Many of you believe you are sure of what you want to study. Know this: you’re not. As I mentioned above, there may be a class out there that will change your life. There may also be classes that will change your major. Or add one. Or subtract one. I’ve been at Wesleyan one year and I have so many new feelings about who I am and what my skills are. I don’t count out the possibility of it happening again. My story is a common one. Plenty of you readers are thinking something along the lines of “Well I’m not going to change my major.  Your advice is for other people, silly, indecisive Wesleying writer,” to which I say this: maybe you aren’t going to change your major, and maybe you are. The worst thing that happens is you take a class you don’t like and you’re more sure of your decision of what to study. Keep an open mind.

On the flip side, many of you have no idea what you want to study. Relax; this is perfectly normal and the case for lots of people (even if they claim differently). Just take a wide variety of classes. I’m not saying to dive headfirst into whatever tickles your fancy, but think about classes and subjects that interest you on a deeper level than just “Yo, that sounds cool!” Of course, there’s often no way to know what interests you on a deeper level until you’ve tried it, so for this I simply say good luck.

If you’re like me, you’ll start looking into things and suddenly want to double major and triple major and do something silly like get five certificates. You can’t do that. Begin to acquaint yourself with the idea that you won’t be able to study everything in-depth. That’s okay and good. Deciding on the subject you’re most interested in is an important part of finding out who you are both academically and in general.

For me, the most upsetting part of signing up for classes is casting a woeful eye over all of the ones I’ll probably never get around to taking. It doesn’t really hit you until you have to decide, but you’ll only ever take around 32 classes in your entire college career (much to our own dismay).

Remember, you don’t have to learn by taking a class. If you love something, and just want to know about it because you are interested, there are enough ways for you to get a hold of that information without overextending yourself and banking a career on it. But honestly, in the grand scheme of problems that people have, this one’s not so bad. Some people decide that the solution to this problem is to overload, that is, to take more than the recommended four classes per semester. This is high-level master operator shit, not usually to be trifled with by a freshman, and absolutely not by a first-semester one.

In my personal experience, I took five classes my second semester, and four out of those five classes were majority juniors/seniors. I was actually pushed by professors to not take their class – a rarity after my first semester when every professor, as long as they had space, wanted to give me a chance. I did it anyway. It was hard. It was socially isolating at times. Your freshman peers will often be like you – intelligent and with much to add, but it’s nothing like sitting in a room full of people who have already taken two classes on the subject – you end up woefully unprepared. I was pretty much worked to the bone.  I don’t say that to scare you – I say it because you can very well have the opposite experience, and very well have the same one as me. I came out of it with results that made me ecstatic – I did better than I could have expected, and I felt like I proved something. However, I now know my personality – I know I like to feel like I’m drowning in work. I have a weird personality. And I needed my first semester of a normal, four class college life to figure that out. Give yourself time to figure out your workload.

For now, the only advice on this I’ll give you is that you shouldn’t take five classes in your first semester, and for the love of god, don’t take six, probably ever. Unless, that is, you’re planning on never going out, never getting sleep, never getting involved in extracurriculars (which can often be much more edifying than your classes themselves), and never having a waking minute unclouded by unbearable agony. Obviously, there are those who can handle it, and they eventually will, but you have absolutely no way of knowing whether you’re one of those people until you’ve had experience with taking college-level classes in a college environment. (I keep this tidbit from the articles of before, but if -and when- I do this, I’ll give you a summary of my experience.)

Well this is all good and nice, but how do I actually choose my classes?

The best and perhaps only way (other than word of mouth) is looking at WesMaps: Wesleyan’s online course catalog. The classes are organized mostly by department, but if you click on one of the certificates, course clusters, or interdisciplinary programs, they’ll bring you to classes that are relevant to those programs (often classes already listed under standard majors and departments).

Anyway, following any of the myriad of links on the main page of WesMaps will bring you to the page of that particular department or certificate or what-have-you. This page includes links to the description and website of whatever you’ve clicked on, all the courses and tutorials (which are something you’ll learn about later on) available from or related to that department for the academic year, those same courses sorted by which gen-ed requirements they satisfy, courses that are deemed “appropriate for first-year students” (which you should definitely check out), and “courses not offered,” which you don’t have to worry about because they’re not offered.

Then there’s a horizontal line. Below that line are mostly those same courses but sorted in a way that the department has chosen and that makes sense in light of the structuring of each particular major. It’s good to look at those also, particularly if you’re making longer-term plans.

When you click on a class in WesMaps, it will bring you to that class’s page, complete (usually) with a blurb describing the class, basic information (How many credits is it? What gen-ed and major requirements does it fulfill? What are the prerequisites?), a list of books you’ll need and readings you’ll do, assignments you’ll have throughout the course, and the times of each section. It will also have the name of the professor or professors who are teaching it for the semester. That leads into my next point, about professors themselves.

The professors

This year Wes got a brand new resource for finding who the best professors are on campus.  It’s an app developed by Rafael Goldstein ’21 and Tyler Lederer-Plaskett ’21 called OurCampus.  The app allows Wes students to give professors an overall score between 1-5 and a difficulty rating from 1-5 as well as leave a review.  The app is a great and highly up to date way of discovering new professors and of discovering if that class you have your eye on will be much good.

Ratemyprofessor.com is also a good resource with similar, but many of the reviews are dated at this point (dated reviews can still be accurate, however)

When it comes to reviews however it doesn’t hurt to be a little wary. the comments are mostly from students who have had extreme situations with a professor and people are more likely to post when they’ve had a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one; that being said, patterns are patterns.

It’s also worthwhile to keep in mind that while one student had a bad experience with a teacher you may experience quite the opposite. Different students like different things from a teacher.  One student may be overwhelmed by the rapid-fire speed and quantity of information thrown at you in the lectures of a particular professor, while another may say the same professor goes too slowly for them.

From the comments, you can (ideally) sample a wide range of views on each professor and come up with some semblance of an idea of what a class with that professor would be like. Of course, there’s no substitute for going to the class during drop-add and trying it out for yourself, but every bit of information helps (More on drop/add coming tomorrow). Asking upperclassmen for their advice through the WesAdmits page is also often a good move.

As for the actual decision of which classes to choose, that’s up to you in the end. You’ve gotten the Wesleying advice on breadth and variety, but ultimately it comes down to your personal choice. Anything we’ve said here can (and has often) been overridden by the sentiment of “but I reeeeeally want to take this!” So basically, do whatever you want. Take risks, do cool stuff, succeed, fail, learn. Don’t be afraid to do college. It’s kind of fun.