Students conquer course catalog, plan college path

It’s that time of year again: course selection for the upcoming fall semester. Although we have a long and (we hope) warm ahead of us, it’s clear that the future is on most of our minds this week. But what’s also apparent is that the academically diverse students of the College navigate the all-important course catalog in very different ways.

First-year Liam Gallagher ’14 already has a plan: “I always kind of knew that I wanted to be a doctor,” he said. But he’s also got his eye on English. “Next year I think I’m doing three labs and then an English class for one semester,” he said, explaining that he hopes to be finished with the College’s pre-med requirements by his sophomore spring. Then he would “have six English classes left to take towards the major.”

“I want to give myself the option to go abroad junior year,” Gallagher said. “I have to get physics and bio done … If I did bio abroad, that would look really sketchy, apparently.” Gallagher said he could potentially do physics abroad, but only at Cambridge, which would conflict with his hopes to study in Berlin, Germany.

But for David Gorleku ’11, a French, political science and economics triple major, going abroad was helpful in completing requirements. In fact, because he was able to earn two credits in French by going abroad during his junior year, “that sort of convinced me to add French as a third major,” he said.

But how exactly does one become a triple major, anyway?

“Every class I took here was for something,” meaning a requirement, Gorleku said. He started laying the groundwork before his junior spring, discussing his plan with three separate major advisors. “Basically, when I picked my classes for junior spring, I picked my classes for senior spring.” Gorleku said that since that point, “all four of my classes have been either economics, political science or French.”

Gorleku admitted that “there are some classes that I wished I could have taken, things like art history or psychology,” but he said that even though he technically could have “combined” the fields and majored in political economy, “I thought I could get the benefits by doing both [majors] separately,” Gorleku said.

Ben Seiler ’13, a recently-declared triple major in physics, math and economics, said that he has “always been interested in many things.”

“I personally have read the course catalog many times,” Seiler said. Over the past six months, “I’ve worked out three different outlines for my majors.”

Seiler said that scheduling has been difficult, but meeting divisional requirements has not been particularly problematic since economics covers Div. II and physics covers Div. III.

Though his majors are generally math-oriented, Seiler claims he is still taking advantage of the liberal arts experience. “Because Williams doesn’t have a strict structure, I am not forced to get breadth in certain areas, and I can get breadth in things that I like,” Seiler said. “If you asked a history major if all history classes are the same, they’d say no. It’s even more true in math … where totally different branches are thought about in entirely different ways.”

Aven King ’12 ended up declaring astrophysics and art history somewhat on a whim. “I originally came to Williams thinking I was going to do chemistry or math,” she said.

“I just love space, stars, the galaxy and the universe and all that stuff,” King said, noting that she also is interested in art. King said that even though she “started late” and has had to “scramble” in the last few years to fulfill major requirements, she still has time to take other courses.

“I wasn’t one of those people who came in and knew exactly what they wanted to do here, or what they thought they wanted to do here,” she admitted. According to King, there are a few standard reactions to her choice of study: “Oh, that’s really interesting,” or “What do you want to do with those?” Others ask, “How do they go together?” “They don’t,” King bluntly replied.

It’s a different story for Nikki Wise ’12, a devout Div. III student majoring in biology and chemistry.

With a proud smile, Wise declared that she has explored courses in all Div. III subjects except statistics and physics. She needs to take a Div. II class next semester, and said she is thinking economics, because it involves math.

So how exactly does one do all those problem sets?

“How do you do all those papers?” Wise shot back.

Wise said that she made an academic “deal” with one of her Div. I friends. “Every once in a while she would have a short story or a poem and I would read them … and every once in a while when I was studying and came upon something that was translatable to real life I would explain it,” she said.

Wise recalled the time when an English professor urged her, “Go ahead, I want to hear what you’re saying … I want to hear a perspective from the other side of Route 2.”

Whether they stay on one side or cross over, Ephs’ broad interests are making good use of the 300-odd pages of courses available to them.