Course selection advice for first-years: the woes of getting into a class you want

[Author’s note: This column was written weeks ago, hence if you do not find it amusing today, simply hop into your DeLorean and go back to the beginning of September when it was still relevant.]

Allow me to be the first to welcome all you freshmen…I mean, first-years to Williams. What? You’ve already been welcomed 87 times by every member of the administration and half the junior class? Well, fine, allow me to be the 88th to welcome you. I remember when I was in your shoes. They didn’t fit right and the laces were grungy. Nevertheless, I persevered, and that got me to where I am today. Same place as you, except I’ve paid this fine institution a bit more money since I’ve been here longer.

College is a funny thing (at least I hope it is, since this is supposed to be a humor column). You first-years are probably filled with great expectations of partying, with the occasional class that interrupts your day, but by the time you’re a sophomore…er, that is by the time you’re a junior…hmm, maybe this is a bad example…well, once you’re a senior, you’ll be focused on your job or grad school, with the occasional class that interrupts…

Tell you what, let’s just pretend that the classes are really what’s important so we can talk about course selection for a bit. You will have to show up for those classes occasionally, so you may as well pick something that interests you. Many students employ a technique known as “shopping” for classes during the first week. This works just like regular shopping, in that those pants that looked great in the dressing room end up being a bit too tight for comfort, and the buttons on the shirt immediately fall off.

You could even consider the classes you take as part of your wardrobe, since they do affect how people will look at you, but the SPCM (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Metaphors) will hunt you down and flog you with uncooked spaghetti. In any case, the trick to effective course shopping is knowing what to look for. There are a few telltale signs that you should be aware of:

Good signs:

– The entire syllabus fits on an index card.

– Class takes place on comfortable couches

– The professor has a “2 drink minimum”

– Class times given all end in “-ish”

– Choose your own grade!

Bad signs:

– The professor demands your parents’ home phone number on the first day

– Non-mandatory but “highly recommended special sessions” are scheduled for five hours every Saturday.

– Inscribed upon the classroom door: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”

– 10-page paper assigned to “ease you into the class”

– The professor carries a bullwhip that he calls “Mr. Late Homework”

Of course, the other trick is getting into the courses that you want. Even though it is my senior year, I recently received an e-mail informing me that I was dropped from my English class because preference was given to first-year students. When I was a first-year student, I couldn’t get into the English classes I wanted because preference was given to seniors. Sophomores can’t get into any classes at all, although they do have a lot of free time to become proficient at sports. Juniors know that they won’t get into any classes, which is why half of them leave the country for a semester and another half pretend to be freshman in the JA (Just Acting) program in order to increase their odds. This usually leaves approximately seven actual juniors on campus. Last year it was just my friend Tom and I. We played cards.

Now, though, I am a senior. And as my compsci major friends prepare to take jobs with an annual income roughly equivalent to the Gross National Product of Luxembourg, I reflect upon my philosophy major, which has prepared me to ask life’s big questions. Big questions like “Paper or plastic?” and “Do you want fries with that?” And though I don’t regret my major (I even got a really cool hat that says “Sum Ergo Cogito”), I’m still hoping to take that English class. If it helps improve my writing, it helps all of us. So to all you freshmen out there: Take something else.