Choosing Classes, Choosing Majors (Certificates? Minors? Clusters?)

Wesleyan students are busily deciding on the classes they intend to take next semester. It’s an exciting and sometimes frustrating time. Students may have heard since their first term about Don Moon’s government class on the moral basis of politics (a top choice since I was an undergrad), while others will be eager to learn about the history of architecture from Joseph Siry (whose classes have also been popular for a very long time), or from Katherine Kuenzli, (whose class on Wagner and Modernism is cross-listed in 5 depts!). If students want to take a very popular course with limited enrollments, then they may well be frustrated. But a good antidote to this is to go to Wesmaps and search for classes with free seats (just check that box). You are likely to discover some real gems — be they classes in data analysis or biology, to classes in religion or a brand new new one on the history of the European novel.

As students plan for the spring term, sophomores in particular are thinking through how they will focus their studies. Choosing a major can seem very difficult, especially if one has diverse interests. It’s crucial that students talk this through with their advisors. I remember not being able to choose among philosophy, psychology and history — and then a dean asked me why I thought I had to choose. I wound up creating a university major that combined these fields. Today, many students double major, while others add certificates (much like an interdisciplinary minor) or other points of focus. I always suggest that students worry less about how their major(s) will look to others after graduation and focus more on what they are most interested in. What is it that generates your greatest intellectual passion? Your major will let you deepen that passion and discover how it might be relevant to what you do after graduation.

Professors are busy too, of course. Not only are we grading exams and papers from the fall, but we are thinking about those spring courses and how to make them as compelling as possible. I’ve been teaching the Past on Film since the Ice Age, but next term it will be very different than in previous years — we are going discuss how photography makes a difference in our cultural and personal recollections. We’ll also be looking at several films that hadn’t made it onto the syllabus in prior years.

We professors also look forward to seeing where our intellectual passions lead us. Our journeys are informed by the engagement with the interests of our students as we continue learning together.

1 thought on “Choosing Classes, Choosing Majors (Certificates? Minors? Clusters?)

  1. While I agree that finding exciting new courses may happen, I am always dismayed at the fact that so many students are closed out of classes. From reading the parents’ site, this seems to be a chronic problem. Many parents, who are alumni, remember it as well. I wonder why this has not been addressed. I have read all the emails about kids learning to advocate for themselves, etc, but the bottom line is that if there is a waiting list of 30 no amount of advocating is going to work for number 30.
    My son is a high school senior and given my daughter’s experience at Wesleyan (where despite this she is extremely happy), I made sure he ask about getting into courses in the small liberal arts colleges he is interested in – some very much like Wesleyan. It does not seem to be as problematic.

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