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November 13, 2012

Shop ’til you Add/Drop

Getting the most out of course selection isn’t just about careful bidding.

It’s official. Next week is wait-I-can’t-believe-it’s-already-eighth-week week. Also affectionately known as uuugh-bidding-week week. Joy abounds!

Of course, any excitement which might accompany the thought of how you’re going to be spending your dreary winter mornings and afternoons this coming quarter is inevitably doused by the existential crises bidding provokes. Can I put off picking my major for another quarter? How do I decide between two classes being held at the same time? Am I willing/physically capable of sitting through a three-hour lecture on some horrendously esoteric French philosopher? Can I pretend Core Bio doesn’t exist again (again (again))? Would the sky collapse if I randomly take Marathi this quarter? Do I have the right stuff for a grad course? Will taking an econ class corrupt my soul? What if I still can’t get in to that creative writing seminar I’ve been bidding for since first year?!

So while you’re contemplating the meaning of the universe and your place in it, pondering the limits of your patience and abilities (no, trust me, you can’t do another 8 a.m.), allow me to offer a small bit of hard-earned advice: If you’re doing it right, the bidding process should take no more than a few minutes. Don’t get me wrong—we all have tough decisions to make and some serious soul searching to stop procrastinating about. It’s just that eighth week is not the right time to do it.

If there’s a magic formula to bidding, I think it’s this: First, bid for required classes that you know are going to fill up quickly, and then mindlessly pick the coolest sounding course(s)—ones you’d be willing to take, of course—to fill your remaining slots. Your adviser isn’t paying me to say the first bit; it’s just that you’ve got to graduate eventually. As for the remaining selections, the classes which really jump out to you are likely going to excite others and hence fill up fastest.

You’re probably thinking this sounds like a (tantalizingly) brash and haphazard way of selecting classes. I completely agree. But I still think it’s the best you can do during eighth week. If you’re trying to use bidding period as a means of selecting your course load or, worse, your major or career, you’re only setting yourself up for unhappiness.

Think back to the most rewarding class you’ve taken in college. I’m willing to bet that what made it so special wasn’t something you could have gleaned from an arbitrary course title and a (more often than not misleading or outright wrong) course description: Maybe you enjoyed the atmosphere created by the other students in the class; maybe the professor had a special charm or way with words; maybe you were really excited about a particular assignment or course requirement. The only way you’re ever really going to get this kind of on-the-ground information is by taking the class, of course, but the next best thing you can do is stop by the first few sessions.

That’s right—here’s where that obscene-sounding S word rears its head—I’m asking you to do a little shopping. I’m continually astonished by the number of upperclassmen who tell me that they don’t shop, either because they don’t know how to or are afraid to. Neither of these excuses is to be taken seriously. There is literally nothing more to shopping than showing up and maybe (hold on, here’s the tricky part!) asking for a signature on your pink slip if you like the course. Professors won’t know that you’re not officially enrolled in the course on the first day. And they won’t hate you forever if you show up on the first day and don’t return for the second. The worst that could happen is that you might meet some new people and learn a thing or two about a new subject… sounds pretty terrible to me.

I can tell you from experience that the best way to select an interesting course load is to be an aggressive shopper. You should be busy sitting in on classes nonstop from 9:30 until late afternoon for the first few days of the quarter. If this sounds unreasonable, let me remind you: You have nothing else to do first week! And, no, relaxing doesn’t count—especially since you’ll be returning from a break. Remember what you’re getting for your time; a few extra hours of work at the beginning of the quarter searching for classes and professors who really resonate with you might spare you an entire quarter in otherwise mediocre classes.

At the end of the day we’re still U of C students, and we’re still going to complain about our classes. But that doesn’t mean all of our complaints are justified. We’re responsible for creating our course load, and I really don’t see how we can choose the best classes for ourselves without trying a bunch on for size.

Tyler Lutz is a fourth-year in the College majoring in physics and English. 

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