First Year Scheduling: Keep it Intellectual and Impractical

You don’t have to come into Swarthmore with a set major. Actually, you will not even declare your major until your sophomore spring. Or, if you do know what you want to study, you don’t need to study it right away. Many students and faculty recommend expanding outside of your desired field of study during your first semester, as it is pass/fail. Pass/fail means the classes will only show up on your transcript as Credit, if you pass, or No Credit, if you fail. This pushes you out of your comfort zone and allows you to learn about different departments without the fear of a certain grade.

Coming into Swarthmore, I knew I wanted to study Biology and Spanish.  I had taken a look at the course schedule and planned on taking Intro Biology, Intensive Spanish, and Intro Chem ( a necessary requirement for a Biology major).  That left me with about one elective class, and I had thought practically I should take an introduction to college writing class.  My plan was safe and would get me through requirements.  However, during orientation I learned that I did not need to take both intro bio courses due to AP credit, and I would not need to take Bio that fall.   

Making a representative timeline of major events in earth’s history in Quantitative Paleobiology

With a new open spot in my schedule I began to look at classes that wouldn’t fulfill a practical requirement, but rather looked into classes that genuinely interested me.  In my search, I found an Anthropology class on food and culture, a Literature class on colonial Latin America, and Intro to Computer Science.  I decided to push off intro chemistry and take these classes along with Spanish.  Cramming interesting although possibly impractical classes into my schedule has become a pattern of mine. My sophomore spring I dropped second level statistics for a quantitative paleobiology class. I knew I would eventually have to take the class I had dropped, but my paleobiology class became my favorite class.  

At this point, I have learned that intellectual interest should come first. As a sophomore planning my majors, I worried I would be behind with having taken seemingly unrelated classes to my planned majors. I had received one credit for Biology in my first year. However, this proved to not be a problem at all.  I have more than enough room to complete an Honors major in Biology and can even take on a double major. Although I had planned on Spanish, I found myself very interested in Psychology, Computer Science, and Statistics.  So, I decided on a Cognitive Science double major.  Many of the classes I wanted to take were accepted for that major. However, by my sophomore fall I only had one Cognitive Science credit. That is the beauty of liberal arts. Major requirements are not meant to make you focus on only one subject. Many students have double majors, while still taking many classes outside those disciplines.  

Field trip to Longwood gardens with Organismal and Population Biology

Following my intellectual curiosity has been a great way to stay motivated throughout a semester. It keeps my schedule dynamic, because I am not just taking STEM or humanities classes. It is easier to balance different kinds of work as well. Last, it’s important to expand your mind, learn about subjects you know nothing about, and approach old topics in new ways.  The best part of Swat is that people learn for the sake of learning. So, as you look for what classes to take in your first semester or year, think about that. Chances are, your intro class will be taught again, but some courses may only be offered once. So take those opportunities, learn what you love and use those experiences to guide you throughout college. You may end up finding a hidden talent or new passion along the way.


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