By now I am sure you have heard of a little thing called, “The Core Curriculum,” and probably enough trite commentary on it to match the incessant ramblings of Homer. Some popular platitudes about the Core include that it sets the U of C curriculum in complete opposition with that of Brown (which hardly requires anything), that it is actually worthwhile, and that it gets in the way of your education. However, if you chose the U of C out of your own free will, or even if you didn’t, you have probably already mustered up the gumption to take this sometimes tortuous, often rewarding path through survey-sized academia.
Former President of the University Robert Maynard Hutchins founded the Core in the 1930s with the intention of giving every undergrad who passed through Hull Gate, the chance (not to mention obligation) to immerse his or herself in an interdisciplinary education. This means that not only do students get to take a wide variety of courses, but they also can do so alongside classmates with broad and often differing fields of interest.
The only sequence you will have to take during your first year is Hum (short for Humanities, and, of course, you’re probably going to want to take more than just that). For Hum, as with Sosc (that’s Social Sciences), you’ll have six fairly varied options ranging from Philosophical Perspectives to Greek Thought and Literature to Media Aesthetics, the last in which, besides reading literature, you also learn a great deal about the nuances of sound and will probably watch The Matrix.
Marx, Plato, and Smith, among others, are the exegetical bread and butter of the Sosc department, although, as with Hum, the required readings vary quite a bit among sequences. For example, in Power, Identity, and Resistance, classes discuss dialectical materialism, the oceanic feeling, the invisible hand and a hodgepodge of other theories and sentiments, but dishing on the personal lives of these great social philosophers is not off-limits. That includes Rousseau’s many titillating sexual escapades and Kant’s lack thereof, not to mention Nietzsche’s hellish sister. This is all to say that social sciences at the U of C can actually be fun for a variety of reasons, and certainly not something to fret over.
For Mathematics, select one of many year-long calculus series, or if you don’t want to take so many classes, an introductory statistics or math theory class will also suffice, provided you take five courses in the sciences. For physical science, there are a wide array of classes ranging from Astronomy to Environmental Science. In order to satisfy your natural science requirement you will need to take Core Biology (learn about the Golgi Apparatus, birth rates of copulating cheetahs, telomeres, etc.) along with either one or two Bio topics courses, depending how many math and physical science classes you plan on taking.
In addition to all of this, you will also be required to complete a Civilizations (Civ) series for two or three quarters. Many students do Civ abroad and rave about their experience—which is to be expected considering that classes are offered in cities such as Barcelona, Beijing, Cape Town, and Paris. There is also an art requirement, which can be fulfilled by taking classes in Theater and Performance Studies, Art History, and, as of last year, Creative Writing. And don’t forget the language requirement—completion of any of the University’s level–100 language series or the equivalent (high AP scores, adequate placement tests, and so on).
A friendly note concerning the Physical Education test: Try to eat a decent breakfast and don’t be feverish. Bleachers are involved, along with back flexibility and, possibly, minor blows to your ego. Still, don’t sweat it. Even if you are not able to place out of the Physical Education requirement entirely, that only sentences you to a relatively relaxing class or two that you might have taken anyway. Anyone for swing dancing, yoga, or racquetball? The athletics department has you covered, and will even ensure that you can swim come graduation.
Finally, to return to my clichés, you have to take the good with the bad—this is the price you pay for a top-notch Great Books education. Choose your classes wisely; don’t squander the opportunity and simply pick the series with the best ring to it. If you follow where your interests—and horoscope—lead you probably will not fail (and if Mars is in the second house, please, opt out of Readings in World Literature). Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched. This above all: to thine own self be true and, if you please, to the very core.