I know you’ve heard it, or, if not, then you’ve felt it somehow, sweeping through the dorm room hallways, rolling around Café Viv, and whirring past kids on their way to Firestone. There is a buzz in the air, and no, it’s not the bees or the wind that’s making that sound. I’m talking about that time halfway through the semester or so when the course catalog comes out.
This is a huge event for every student, big or small, popular or not popular. Because at Princeton, unlike other places that my friends go to, it’s cool to get into your classes and to get excited about academics. Even if the enthusiasm is unspoken, it is usually obvious in the students’ eyes that classes ignite a certain amount of excitement in them. Last time a girl asked me the time and I told her it was 2:30, she then informed me that her politics class was starting soon. Even though we did not say anything else to each other past that point in the conversation, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and I could tell, without actually being told, just how excited she was for her class to start.
Once people get over the initial excitement that the course catalog brings with it, a new feeling sets in: one of worry. What classes should I take? Is this professor any good? What distribution requirements do I need to fulfill? Then there are the problems with time conflicts: I want to take this cool politics class, but it meets at the same time as that awesome English seminar, which meets at the same time as that exciting Psychology lecture, and on and on and on. I’ll be the first to admit it, it can start to feel stressful. Because, face it: even though we are excited by our classes and work, there is also a huge amount of responsibility that goes with planning out our academic futures. I have never known a Princeton student to shy away from these responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fears expressed along the way.
So, in order to calm down your nerves and get you re-excited for class the way you were when you first felt that buzz, I’ve written a few tips that I’ve collected over time in order to help you pick out the classes that would be best for you.
1. Check your distribution requirements. This will save you a lot of angst in the future, when you could suddenly realize that you never took an SA, or fulfilled that ST, or what the heck is an EM? These kinds of worries can be easily avoided if you do what I do: think in the past, present and future. What classes did I take in the past? What classes am I taking right now? What classes do I have to take in the future? When considering distribution requirements, also ask yourself, what distribution requirements have I already filled? Which classes felt the hardest for me in the past, and which distributions were those classes in? Why were those classes hard for me? Because of that class specifically, or because of the general area (distribution area) that it was in? For example, if science isn’t really your thing, think back and try to remember whether your ST was particularly painful. If it was, maybe consider taking an ST only if your workload is light enough in the upcoming semester. Also consider that some classes are easier than others and still may fill the distribution requirements that you need them to fill. Thinking through things like that will hopefully lighten your requirement load, while still not breaking your back.
2. Consider taking classes in areas that you do not usually look in. Does that Women’s Studies class look fun, if only it weren’t in Women’s Studies? Have you been interested in Latin, but haven’t taken it because it “wasn’t your thing”? Take it regardless! Far too often Princeton students pigeonhole themselves into one area or another simply because they are afraid about taking a leap into something new. Don’t fall into that trap! Consider why you’re scared about taking that English class that you’ve always wanted to take. Is it because you’re worried about being behind, or somehow inadequate? Are you worried about getting a bad grade? Remember that you can always PDF a class (unless that class doesn’t let you PDF it), so don’t let the fear of a grade point average drop keep you away from trying something that in the end, you might love. My friend Eleanor (she doesn’t go here) always told every person she met: I’m an English major with a minor in dance. Then, one year, someone encouraged her to take a math class that she would have never even dreamed of taking. Now when people ask her what her major is, do you know what she says? Math, but I still like English a whole lot. This could be you! Explore the idea of exploring. I guarantee you won’t regret it—you’ll learn something about a new subject, and maybe something about yourself along the way.
3. Take classes based on the professor, not the class. This is something that I wish someone had told me when I was a freshman. Sometimes, class descriptions can be extremely misleading. That class that basically frames itself as “The Most Awesome and Entertaining Class in the World, with Not A Lot of Reading” may very well end up actually being “The Worst and Least Entertaining Class in the World with a Trillion Pages of Reading Every Week.” Moreover, that class whose description was so boring that it made you fall asleep and swallow your Orbit Lemonade gum as you were reading it might end up actually being one of the most interesting and life-changing classes of your entire life. Talk to other people who have had these professors before. What was their teaching style like: relaxed, or straight? How much work did they give on average each week: a lot, a little, or somewhere in between? What kind of a grader were they: tough, or nice? Find out all of the info before making your picks. And don’t forget to find some kind of balance. If you have one professor who you hear is really upbeat and active, maybe find another one who’s more low-key and laid back. These kinds of background checks will ensure that your schedule doesn’t feel too much like it’s
leaning one way or the other in terms of professor personality.
4. Find a good balance between lectures and seminars, and work-types. Although you do want some kind of blend between all of your classes, you also don’t want to feel like they’re all too similar. Princeton students, though I probably don’t even need to tell you this, like variety and aren’t scared of putting the pieces together themselves. So mix it up! If you’re taking a lecture course which only has big precepts, try to balance that out with an intimate seminar that allows for small and focused discussions. If you’re taking a class that only has problem sets and very little reading, try to find another class that has more emphasis on the reading and less assignments due week-to-week. These kinds of measures will ensure that you never feel too stressed out with four midterms, or four papers come midterms and finals.
5. Finally: have fun! Don’t forget that, no matter how stressful it may get at certain points, the whole point of taking classes here is to enjoy yourself, meet new people and hey—maybe learn a thing or two as well! Get excited about your courses, and don’t forget not to take any of your choices too seriously—you can always switch them around come spring, so you might as well have a ball when picking them out in the fall.